Trip to Kentucky for Committee on Bail Reform Yields Valuable Information

By Robert Aycock

Robert AycockThe Judicial Council Ad Hoc Committee on Misdemeanor Bail Reform was formed to study bail practices across the nation and offer recommendations to improve Georgia’s system. As part of this effort, several members of the committee traveled to Kentucky, a national leader in bail reform. The travel team consisted of Bob Bray, Executive Director of the Council of State Court Judges; T.J BeMent, 10th District Court Administrator; Senior Judge Melodie Clayton, Cobb County State Court; and two judges from Pickens County Magistrate court, Chief Judge Allen Wigington and Judge Alan Morris. Robert Aycock, a staff member for the committee, participated on behalf of the Judicial Council/Administrative Office of the Courts.

After arriving in Kentucky, the committee members first met with various court staff and judges to discuss the history of bail reform in the state and its current practices. Notably, the committee witnessed how Kentucky utilized pretrial risk assessment tools during its bail determinations. Pretrial staff used an algorithm to assign each arrestee a public safety and failure to appear risk level. Those with the lowest risk level were administratively released on their own recognizance while the remainder had bonds assigned by a judge. Later, the committee members went to a local jail to see how criminal records were updated and risk levels were calculated. Throughout these observations, committee members inquired about how court staff ensure the accuracy of the reports and how comfortable judges were relying on the assessments. Following these visits, the committee members met with Kentucky public defenders and prosecutors to discuss their views on reform efforts and Kentucky’s current practices. While all parties were supportive of the reforms, these discussions revealed the difficulties the state had faced throughout the years and the important role that proper research and open communication between stakeholders played in successful implementation.

While differences between the states mean that totally replicating Kentucky’s model on bail would be impractical, the site visit offered an invaluable opportunity to see alternative bail practices in action and learn of the many benefits and challenges that have been experienced with the implementation of reform in this area. 

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