Some D.A.s Want To Eliminate Bail For Low-Risk Offenders

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An effort by prosecutors to eliminate bail in Wisconsin is gaining momentum.

For the second time in a row since being elected, Gov. Scott Walker vetoed a proposal this year to allow bail bondsmen to operate in Wisconsin. But some district attorneys would like to see money completely removed from the pre-trial process.

Milwaukee D.A. John Chisholm says bail amounts set by judges now are supposed to reflect the risk a defendant poses to the community if he or she is allowed to remain free between arrest and trial. But Chisholm says money doesn’t really equal risk.

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“Money has been used as a proxy in Wisconsin for risk,” says Chisholm. “You’re not supposed to do that. Part of our initiative in Milwaukee is to start speaking honestly to one another.”

What Chisholm would like to see the state do is use a pre-trial detention statute that is already on the books and encourage judges to detain really dangerous people without bail and release lower-risk offenders on their personal recognizance instead of requiring the $100 to $500 in bail they are currently held on.

“I don’t care about the cash,” says Chisholm. “I just want them to attend their court proceedings not commit any new crimes and maybe start being diverted into these programs that are going to modify their behavior over time so that they’re not a chronic problem to the system.”

Chisholm says it would take only a minor amount of tweaking of the current detention statute to eliminate money completely from the pretrial detention process.

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