Mobile, Alabama to limit “Own Recognizance” Release

One Municipal Court in Alabama is taking away the “get out of jail free” card it once gave willingly to those arrested on a number of criminal offenses. Mobile city officials have acknowledged a drastic increase in the number of defendants who are arrested on criminal charges, released by signing their own bond, commit another offense, repeat and so forth until it adds up to more than 25 offenses in a three-year period.

The Revolving Door

For several years the municipal court allowed defendants to be released by signing their own bond without having to post any bail. The majority of those released simply failed to show up at court. Defendants were just sitting on warrants and committing new offenses. Bail bondsmen in the area said city officials finally started to take notice nearly a year ago when so many defendants failed to return to court. With the exception of domestic violence and DUI nearly every other misdemeanor criminal defendant was released on his own recognizance. Without a bail requirement, the defendants simply didn’t show up at court and many would end up back in jail on new charges and released in a revolving door scenario. The cost involved in bringing fugitives back to court on these charges in most instances wasn’t worth it. Law enforcement in the area is already maxed out, adding another duty put the community-at-large at risk.

Bail Reform Failure

Bail reform stalled in the Alabama Legislature. The bill would have required municipal judges to release low-level offenders on their own recognizance. SB-31 failed to pass the Senate earlier this year as it met serious opposition. Other bail reform bills across the country have met similar fates. In California, bail reform stalled last year due to lack of funding and a comprehensive replacement plan. Nevada bail reform reached the same conclusion as Governor Sandoval vetoed legislation that would require judges to implement risk assessment algorithms. Similar examples can be noted across the country as legislators try to figure out how to fix a broken criminal justice system.

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Gloria Mitchell

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