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Politics & Government

Some Republican state lawmakers back repeal of bail reform

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State Sen. Colin Bonini

Some Republican state lawmakers are calling for a repeal of a law reforming Delaware’s cash bail, saying it makes the state less safe.

It allows judges to set conditions other than posting money to secure release from jail before trial. It was signed by Gov. John Carney (D) in January 2018.

State Sen. Colin Bonini (R-Dover South) voted against the measure. He said the law makes Delaware less safe and points to seven men who allegedly committed crimes after being released on bond. He argues cash bail makes it more likely serious offenders will be held until trial.

“If someone’s been arrested for drug dealing four times and they’re arrested with a whole bunch of heroin on them the fifth time, maybe that person’s a drug dealer," he said. "Just maybe. And maybe that person should have to at least put up bail to guarantee that that person comes back to court.”

State Rep. Steve Symk (R-Milton), who is co-sponsoring Bonini’s repeal bill, voted for bail reform last year, but says the policy isn’t working.

But State Sen. Bryan Townsend (D-Newark), who sponsored the legislation, disagrees. He said the law now considers factors beyond the amount of money someone can pay in bail - such as the likelihood to re-offend or flee.

“Just because you have lots of money doesn’t mean you should be able to buy your way out of jail," he said. "It should be whether you’re a danger to the community or not, whether you’re a flight risk or not.”

A statement for the Delaware court system includes statistics comparing the percentages of defendants re-offending after being released pre-trial and showing up for court hearings. The data shows neither the bleak picture painted by Republicans or the rosy depiction painted by Democrats.

Preliminary state data information shows the failure to appear rate has increased slightly from 23 percent in 2018 to 24 percent in 2019. The percentage of defendants re-offending dropped slightly in the same time frame, from 22 percent to 21 percent. During that period, the number of pretrial detainees has dropped by 7 percent.

American Bail Coalition, a nonprofit comprised of bail bond companies, is also pushing for the law’s repeal. But Bonini said it’s purely a public safety issue.

A Delaware Department of Justice spokesman said repealing last year's bail reform bill at the behest of a bail bond industry group would be an unfortunate step backwards. The Office of Defender Services also opposes the repeal, as does the ACLU of Delaware.

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