Colorado Bail Systems in Process of Intensive Overhaul

Bail reform commission releases recommendations for change

The bail process in Colorado is about to see an intensive overhaul. The Bail Blue Ribbon Commission, led by Colorado Supreme Court Justice Carlos Samour, aims to rethink the bail system in Colorado. The commission plans to institute new practices that increase efficiency and social responsibility. One of the most pressing issues discussed by Samour and other committee members includes the option to abolish monetary bail.

In March, 2018 the Bail Blue RIbbon Commission was formed by former Colorado Supreme Court Nancy Rice to rethink bail procedures in the state in response to reforms taking place across the country. Since its founding, the committee took into consideration Colorado’s pre-existing system and tried to address issues that could be reworked.

On Jan. 19, the commission released the first round of suggestions for policy changes. Although the suggestions didn’t include a recommendation to abolish the monetary bail system just yet, as some states have done, Samour said that the commission made progress in the right direction and they they will continue to research the topic. He also said the committee members are considering their options for reform and reviewed case studies of how bail policy changes were received in places such as California and Washington, D.C.

The recently suggested changes to the bail system by the Bail Blue Ribbon Commission included plans to establish stronger validated risk assessment procedures. Validated risk assessments are identified as important for reform because they take numerous factors about a defendant into account. Many countries across the nation already use a validated risk assessment instrument called C-PAT. The process considers 12 conditions, ranging from the defendant’s state of mental health, to age of the defendant’s first arrest.

“A validated risk assessment instrument not only is useful to the pretrial release services programs that are performing risk assessments, but it’s also useful to the judge who is making decisions,” Samour said.

The initial round of suggestions also included stipulations that every county in Colorado should have a uniform procedure for bail, the judicial branch can also function as an alternative indicator when deciding on terms of bail, that the state court administrator’s office should be responsible for implementation and operation of policy and finally that the state court administrator’s office should remind defendants of their court dates. The Colorado General Assembly is already considering a bill that would require the state to give defendants court date reminders.

A large problem that the committee faces when considering the way to best reform bail in Colorado, especially when it comes to monetary bail systems, is that pretrial release services aren’t always available. The lack of pretrial release services make it difficult to perform a validated risk assessment. Without the risk assessment, it’s difficult for a judge to decide what conditions someone should be released on bail if they know very little about the defendant.

A 2010 study in Jefferson County found that a monetary bail system, for example, does not affect the safety of the community or the likelihood someone will skip trial. It simply burdens people in economically depressed groups, which raises questions about moral justifications.

Samour said that in certain examples from other states, holding people who can’t pay bail doesn’t always make financial sense. If someone isn’t a flight risk or a danger to the community, the money that would have gone to holding them in prison can instead go back toward pretrial services and ensure that all departments can conduct validated risk assessments.

“I’m excited to be working on this project,” Samour said. “The commission is working really hard on not only trying to study the current practices but exploring ways to improve it.” Still, the board has no idea when these proposed changes might be implemented. They are still planning and deliberating about best ways to reform practices.

— Ashley Hopko

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