The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office has enacted a set of bail reform policies and practices to replace an antiquated system that created unequal tiers of justice in our county and caused needless hardship for less-advantaged nonviolent members of our community.
Bail was never intended to be used as punishment in Massachusetts General Law. Bail policies were originally designed to simply ensure that a defendant appeared for a court date. However, in practical usage, cash bail effectively perpetuates cycles of poverty by punishing those accused of a nonviolent crime for their economic status.
Across our nation, there are nearly a half-million people confined in jails – despite having yet been convicted of a crime. Many of them remain in jail for weeks, months, and even years because they are unable to afford bail. More than half of them are parents of young children.* An inability to parent while awaiting trail, let alone earn income, can have devastating consequences for a family. Such policies have the effect of further disenfranchising poor communities of color, who are arrested and incarcerated at disproportionate rates.
Much has been written about the need for bail reform. A good place to start is here: The Marshall Project.
Today, after years of traditional bail policies, prosecutors in the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office only seek bail in rare instances when a defendant is an actual flight risk, and there are no other reasonable conditions to ensure their appearance in court. For those that are not flight risks, the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office is actively working with courts and the legislature to develop effective alternative methods of reminding defendants of upcoming court dates. All bail requests are tracked to ensure consistency and transparency.
Some defendants, however, can pose a very real danger to our community. In these instances, the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office aggressively utilizes the state’s “Dangerousness Statute” as a mechanism for the detainment of harmful individuals. This can result in the use of pre-trial detention without bail, a safety measure designed to protect the public and/or individuals associated with a criminal case.
* Prison Policy Initiative, 2018