Shelby County Commission approves report on bail reforms

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It took a couple of bites at the apple, but Shelby County Commissioners approved a state-required report on a set of bail reforms 8-3-1 during the March 18 meeting.

The report will be sent to state officials. It is required to hit their desks on April 1. 

It was preceded by a failed 5-4-1 vote, as commissioners continue to question the efficacy of the reforms. 

“I think a lot of my constituents have a lot of unanswered questions about how this program is working and frustration with particular incidents they’ve seen over the past several weeks,” said Commissioner Mick Wright.

Commissioner Shante Avant requested reconsideration after members were informed of the state mandate by a county attorney.

“You are required to send the evaluation to the state…,” reminded Commission Attorney Marcy Ingram. “So, if the item fails and you don’t have a special called committee meeting, or something of that nature to get this report to the state by April 1, you will be in violation of the state law.” 

Beginning in March 2023, the data runs through the remainder of the calendar year. The 10-month statistical trail revealed that 66.1% of defendants held at the Shelby County lockup were given out-of-reach bail costs.

Nearly half  — 32 percent — posted bail within 72 hours.

In contrast, 7 percent of defendants were given affordable bail.

The amounts are set by judges and judicial commissioners. District attorneys can make recommendations during the hearing.

Meanwhile, a smaller slice of data from July through December 2023 focused on recidivism rates. Over seven months, 26 percent arrested were already bonded out for a previous crime. Of these, 17 percent were for violent offenses. Another 4 percent were re-arrested for violent crimes.

Commissioners scrutinized the report during a March 6 Law Enforcement, Corrections and Courts Committee meeting.

Voting in favor of the resolution were Charlie Caswell, chairwoman Miska Clay-Bibbs, Edmund Ford, Jr., sponsor Erika Sugarmon, Britney Thornton, Michael Whaley, Wright and Avant. David Bradford, Amber Mills and Brandon Morrison voted no. Henri Brooks abstained, while Mickell Lowery did not vote.

Both Avant and Sugarmon also did not vote on the first attempt. They were joined by Wright, who switched his vote to yield the majority.

Earlier, the resolution was pulled from the consent agenda at the request of Wright.

Along with a new bail hearing room, the reforms passed in August 2022 include individualized hearings with representation no later than three days after arrest. A suspect’s financial circumstances are examined using the Vera Institute’s “Ability to Pay” calculator.