Spelunking in the Caverns of the Criminal Justice System

Like the rest of the world, I watched with fascination and anticipation while 12 Taiwanese boys and their soccer coach awaited rescue from their pitch-black safe-haven 2.5 miles deep into a mountain.  An ill-timed spelunking expedition.

What a feeling of exhilaration there must have been among the young boys when, after 14 days of silence and darkness, a light from two British divers broke through the water.  The bravery displayed by the stranded boys and their coach, the heroism demonstrated time and again by the international team of frogmen renews one’s faith in the human spirit.  Proving once again, when people are faced with a crisis, cooler heads and open minds can solve just about any problem.

In many respects there have been groups of would-be reformers conducting ill-advised cave diving into the criminal justice system here in the United States.  Embarking on an ideological journey with no real plan in place should their excursion run into trouble.  In fact, the possibility of their plan failing was/is not even a consideration.

The catch and release initiatives set up in many cities and counties across the country, San Jose, CA, El Paso and Houston, TX and Noblesville, IN to name just a few, are failing miserably.  Jail populations are up, as are failures to appear. As a result, confidence and respect for the criminal justice system is rapidly eroding.

On the bail industry’s side, there is general agreement several pre-trial release options are needed to have an effective pre-trial release system.  Among these are unsecured release, release on a secured bail bond and preventative detention for some offenders who simply present too much of a risk to public safety to be released from jail before trial.

On the reformers side of the equation, there is only one solution – free to go! They want to get rid of the concept of detaining in lieu of bail, holding people accountable to appear at trial and requiring those that can afford bail to post bail.  This plan brazenly disregards the rights and best interest of crime victims, public safety and a society that was built on the rule of law.

Reformers would have the law-abiding citizens, city and county officials and state legislators believe only people charged with low level offenses, who cannot afford to post bail, are occupying our jails.   The woe-is-me argument on behalf of criminal offenders.  Sure, there is going to be a certain number of offenders who may fit that description and these same people would likely qualify to be released on their own recognizance under current law.

What confounds me is the reformers include among those they seek to help, Wall Streeters, One Percenters and Corporate Big Wigs, who should also be granted free bail.  Everyone should be released!  Why is it such a foreign concept to reformers, to permit those who can afford to post bail, post bail? This would permit appropriated taxpayer dollars to be specifically directed towards those offenders who have proven to be unable to post bail.  Would it not be the case that more people would get the assistance they need?

The criminal justice system has many caverns and one should not go spelunking without an exit strategy.  Using proven strategies that have been in place for decades should always be open to consideration.