Historic Resolution Agreement Made in Alabama to Reform Money Bail
A historic Resolution Agreement was reached on April 6, 2018 between the United States Department of Justice and the Tenth Judicial District of Alabama, the first of its kind, in response to a complaint filed by Equal Justice Under Law a Washington, D.C. based civil rights nonprofit that alleges Jefferson County’s practice of using money bail discriminates against African Americans in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.
The Agreement agrees to carry out the use of risk-based assessments and pretrial release alternatives, acting as substitutes for traditional bail bond requirements in determining which defendants are released prior to trial and to establish a fully-funded pretrial services agency for Jefferson County.
In response to EJUL’s complaint, the DOJ’s Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation into the bail setting practices in Alabama’s Tenth Judicial District in 2016 to determine if Jefferson County’s practice of allowing magistrate judges to make subjective assessments of a defendant’s risk may have led to discriminatory outcomes for pretrial release decisions. EJUL’s complaint and the OCR investigation have since prompted Jefferson County to voluntarily adopt a risk-based individualized assessment tool.
Phil Telfeyan, Executive Director of EJUL said,
“We’re glad to see Jefferson County take an important step toward eliminating the inequality that plagues our pretrial justice system...
Services will be implemented by establishing a Pretrial Services Agency to supervise individuals and to assess “each defendant’s needs for mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and appointed legal counsel”; providing racially neutral pretrial release guidance and supervision. Over the next three years the DOJ Office of Civil Rights will retain federal oversight of the Tenth District’s transition requiring them to provide training on the use of the new assessment models and to validate new risk assessment systems within two years of implementation. The results will be measured to determine “whether use of the instrument shows bias against defendants based on their race or national origin.”
Phil Telfeyan, Executive Director of EJUL said, “We’re glad to see Jefferson County take an important step toward eliminating the inequality that plagues our pretrial justice system, and we hope the Department of Justice and counties across the country continue to make similar changes to ensure equality and fairness for indigent individuals and people of color in our criminal justice system.”
This Resolution comes amidst nationwide efforts to reform money bail systems. Every day about 450,000 Americans sit in jail because they cannot pay bail.
The Department of Justice is currently investigating similar complaints of pretrial racial discrimination filed by Equal Justice Under Law against numerous counties across the nation. Review the full Resolution Agreement.
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