New rule changes county’s jail bond system

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

The first of the year brought significant changes to pretrial release systems in Indiana jails.

Criminal Rule 26 — which is now in effect — states that courts should utilize the results of an evidence-based risk assessment and other relevant information to determine whether an arrestee presents a substantial risk of flight, danger to themselves or danger to the public.

With that information, the Dubois County Security Center and community corrections now has the authority to release people charged with certain offenses without making them pay bond, while also holding some offenders until they see the judge.

“Really, the goal of this whole thing is to keep the right people in jail for the right reasons,” said Dubois Circuit Court Judge Nathan Verkamp. “Before, it was just kind of arbitrary.”

Here’s how it works locally. A stakeholder team has determined that those booked on nonviolent and nonsexual misdemeanor charges are now eligible to be released immediately after being booked without a cash bond. Those arrested for alcohol-related offenses still have to be held until their blood-alcohol content reaches a certain level, but they are eligible for a nonfinancial release, too.

Those booked on violent and sexual charges, most felony crimes, are not cooperative or are already on any form of community supervision are not allowed to be released until seeing a judge. People whose highest charge is a Level 6, nonviolent and nonsexual felony, who are determined to not be on any form of supervision or pretrial release for another pending case, have the option to post a cash bond before their initial hearing.

The rule is billed as one avenue to reduce pretrial detention rates for low risk arrestees while protecting public safety. It’s a big change from the previous bond schedule format that had no flexibility.

And it’s a change that has already been felt locally.

Verkamp explained that in the old system, some people could remain in jail on a bond of as little as $500 because they couldn’t afford it. Others could be held on more severe charges and pay $50,000 to be released.

“They’re both presumed to be innocent, but one is being basically, in my opinion, being punished because they’re poor,” Verkamp said. “And that’s not fair.”

After being booked in the Dubois County Security Center, the community corrections staff uses the Indiana Risk Assessment System to complete a pretrial assessment. That assessment determines how likely a person is to flee to avoid being prosecuted, or “to harm themselves or someone else, or get another arrest prior to their case being settled,” explained Melissa Niehaus, pretrial case manager at community corrections.

“I ask them a series of questions about their criminal history, if they have a stable residence ... we also ask questions about employment, and substance use and things like that,” she said. “Anything I can verify that they tell me, I go back and verify.”

Those who are released from jail immediately are still required to undergo an assessment. The person is given a pretrial risk score that Verkamp uses alongside other factors to determine an appropriate form of release. Community corrections staff have completed these IRAS assessments since 2016, but now, they carry a new weight.

“And now, we’ve kind of implemented some things that are a little bit different on who gets out right away, and who waits to see the judge,” Niehaus said. “And then the judges use the assessment, that information to make a more informed decision on that person’s risk.”

Just because a person is reprieved from posting bond doesn’t mean they get off scot-free. They’re still required to appear for court dates and sentencing, which could include anything from fines to jail time.

It’s also important to note that bond hasn’t completely disappeared. Judges can still determine a person must pay it to be released from jail.

Niehaus said the new system maximizes release, public safety and court appearances. After the first full weekend of the year, several people who would have been required to stay in the corrections center until they either posted their bonds or appeared in court were released.

“People already are spending less time at the security center,” Verkamp said. “In just a short time, we can point to the program that we’ve put in place.”




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