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State Senate passes bail system overhaul

Delaware Public Media

The Delaware Senate passed legislation Tuesday revamping the state’s bail system. Bill sponsors say allowing poor people to sit in jail because they can’t afford bail criminalizes poverty.

Delaware currently uses a cash bail system to guarantee defendants will show up for trials and court appearances. But the Delaware Center for Justice argues it’s unfair to poor Delawareans - as well as people of color.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Democratic State Sen. Bryan Townsend, said many of the people detained before trial pose no danger to the public. He says the measure emphasizes using an empirical risk assessment tool to make pretrial decisions.

“Some form of monetary bail is sort of required in Delaware code that has shown to not always be appropriate, especially to people of low income who don’t pose any kind of flight risk or reoffends risk," he said. "So this makes the point that we have other ways for us to release people before trial on non-monetary conditions.”

Five Republican senators opposed moving the bail system away from financial requirements and giving judges more discretion in setting conditions for pretrial release. Republican State Sen. Colin Bonini and four other Republicans opposed the overhaul. Bonini said the General Assembly has not given such a big change enough thought.

“I think that by simply releasing everybody, which they’re going to say it’s not, but the reality is this bill simply releases everybody, we are going to significantly increase serious crime,” he said.

The legislation doesn’t apply to capital cases like murder. It encourages judges to use other types of pretrial release conditions like ankle monitoring, home arrest or court supervision. And it focuses more on relying on a better risk assessment tool that predicts whether the defendant will appear for court hearings and trial.

The House passed the bill last year. It now heads to Gov. John Carney.

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