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Ohio News

The Bail Project Aims To Change 'Two-Tiered System Of Justice'

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Kathy Willens/AP
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The organization has paid bail for more than 100 people in the past year and says 90-95% of them have showed up for their court appearances.

After spending a month in the Hamilton County Justice Center, Isaiah Griffin was nervous. At 22 years old, he'd worked harder than most to create a life of his own after spending years in foster care. But he was on the verge of losing everything because he couldn't afford his $10,000 bail. Then, a visit from his attorney helped keep his life on track.

"He told me that he was going to send my information over to The Bail Project. I had no idea what The Bail Project did -- nothing like that," he said. "All I know is a couple guys who I was in there with (said), 'Oh, yeah, you 'bout to get out.' "

The Bail Project helps low-income people by paying their cash bail free of charge. The organization’s goal is ending the cash bail system, which it says isn’t equitable.

Griffin met with Bail Disrupter Jeremy Page, who coincidentally was his case manager in foster care. Page decided Griffin met requirements for assistance, and within four hours, Griffin was free. He's one of more than 100 people The Bail Project has helped in its first year of operation.

"I will go to the jail and I will interview with those individuals and the interviews — we call it the intake and needs assessment — and essentially, we're just assessing 'Are we able to meet the needs of this potential client once they're released from jail?' " Page explains.

Page says the organization helps people make sure they make it to their court appearances by helping with other needs like mental health, housing, job programs and more.

"So sometimes that can just simply mean transportation assistance, where I can set someone up with bus tickets or get them a ride through Lyft; or if they need anything more intensive — that also."

He says the money used to bail people out acts like a revolving door, with the organization getting its money back when a case concludes.

Jeremy Cherson, senior policy advisor at The Bail Project, says the current practice of cash bail means people have to pay to get out of jail, despite not being found guilty of a crime yet.

"Fundamentally, cash bail sets up a two-tiered system of justice: for pre-trial justice, where those who can afford to pay bail are able to be released; and those who cannot remain detained and incarcerated during the pendency of the case," he says. "And that does nothing to address issues of public safety. It does nothing to address issues of flight or concerns about issues with flight."

Alternative Solutions

Cherson says 90-95% of people the organization assists go to all their court dates and The Bail Project gets its bail money back. This contradicts the reasoning behind cash bail: that people will only return to court if their own money is on the line.

The organization advocates for alternate solutions to bail that could include regularly meeting with caseworkers or attending treatment programs.

Isaiah Griffin's attorney Derek Gustafson says he's seen people's lives dramatically affected by even misdemeanor offenses that end in probation with no jail time.

"If I sit in jail for 90 days, you think an employer is going to hold your job? Probably not," he says. "You going to not lose your apartment? Unless they got three months rent saved up, probably not."

He and Griffin declined to talk about Griffin's case because it's ongoing. But court records show he's facing two counts of felonious assault.

When the alleged crime was reported at the end of March, Griffin already knew he needed a change.

"I definitely was hanging around the wrong crowd. And I noticed that as soon as it was too late," he said.

But Griffin says someone else posting his bail was the kick he needed to strive for more in his life. Since he's been bailed out, he says he's been keeping to himself and planning for the future. He's starting school at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College at the end of August and plans to study human and social services. He doesn't have a criminal record, and says he hopes the case wraps up without him having to do any jail time.

"I definitely do not want to miss any kind of court dates," he said. "I want them to see that I am truthful, and that I'm responsible ... I want them to definitely think like, 'OK, well, he's showing up to court, he's doing what he needs to do. He's been here all four court dates. So let's show a little leniency,' because I don't have a record."

In Ohio, lawmakers are currently considering two bail reform bills that have some support from liberal and conservative nonprofits and organizations, according to WSKU. Both bills would cap cash bail at no more than 25% of an individual's income after expenses.