The controversy over whether or not to eliminate the current bail bond system has placed several Prince George’s County elected officials on opposite sides and the question is whether the lingering residue from the debate will have a lasting impact on political affiliations that may determine the outcomes of future elections.
Many county representatives are struggling with what to do about the Barron-Kelley bill which supports an effort to do away with the current bail system. It is in favor of more lenient pre-trial release measures that include electronic monitoring. Currently, there are hundreds of people locked up at the County Detention Center for petty crimes because they can’t afford to make bond, typically through a bail bondsman who charges 10 percent plus a fee for their services.
Bruce Branch (Courtesy Photo)
Bondsman, like former State Del. Tommy Broadwater, who has served the community for dozens of years, said doing away with the bail bond system will eliminate many small businesses and put undue stress on individuals who are arrested and must pay a private company up to $450 per month for electronic monitoring devices. They say, under that scenario, paying a bondsman is cheaper and ensures that more people will return to court.
Maryland State Attorney Brian Frosh was the first to broach the idea of doing away with the existing system by questioning its constitutionality. He wants to build on that by taking the concept of pretrial services statewide. The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled last February that defendants shouldn’t be held in jail simply because they can’t afford to make bond.
“One Maryland means one justice system – not one for the poor and one for those who have money,” Eric Barron, a sponsor of the House bill and a Prince George’s County Delegate from the 24th District which includes some of the economically disadvantaged communities in the county, told reporters. “There has been a political logjam on this issue, but it really is a legal issue.”
Barron, who some said may have aspirations to become the next State’s Attorney from Prince George’s County, called his bill “unfinished business” in the aftermath of the court ruling which takes effect July 1. Unlike the bill favored by the bail bond industry and supported by State. Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-26th) of Fort Washington, Barron’s bill specifies that bail can only be imposed if no other release conditions will “reasonabl(y) assure” that a defendant will show up for trial.
The rival bill sponsored by Muse and Baltimore Del. Curt Anderson, many say, favors the bail bond industry which has ramped up its support for elected officials involved in the matter by dumping more than $135,000 into the campaign coffers of elected officials in the past two years.
Community Activist Larry Stafford of Progressive Maryland is skeptical of the bail bond industry and the motives behind their recent political contributions. “All of a sudden they are doling out money left and right to keep the system the same.”
The bill, which passed in the Senate and is under consideration in the House of Delegates, would establish new requirements for the release of people accused of a crime before their trial. The bill would increase the use of bail, according to one survey.
“We will not stand for this,” Prince George’s State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said. “We want to take the money out of the bail system. We want to take the profit motive out. We stand with the court of appeals.”
Muse, who will likely square off against Alsobrooks in the next race for county executive, disagreed. He reiterated an earlier position taken in front of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee that his bill helps to protect victims of crimes.
“As a minister, I have to bury people and I have to see the results of persons’ actions such as domestic violence. When I see that and I know we’re releasing persons and we don’t even know where they are. We have to protect victims.”
Meanwhile, Alsobrooks and County Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk, who was once an attorney in the Eric Holder Justice Department, were featured speakers on March 28 at a rally in Annapolis in support of revamping the bail system.
“Justice is supposed to be blind, but it isn’t,” she told about 100 protestors. “It is not right to be incarcerated because you are poor.”