New Missouri bail reform means some defendants can’t be held in jail if they can’t pay

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- New bail reforms announced by the Missouri Supreme Court took effect July 1.

Now, if a defendant can't afford bail, a judge can't keep them in jail until their court date. Instead, courts will explore other bond conditions.

According to the Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, the changes will allow people to take care of their families while they're going through the legal process.

The reforms apply only to certain crimes, and if a person is considered a danger, they might have to stay in jail if they can't afford bail.

"We’ve got a system right now," said Justice Gatson, founder of the Real Justice Network, an organization that bails mothers out of jail. "It’s a pay-to-play system. So if you’ve got some money, you can pay yourself out of this."

Gatson said she has high hopes for the reforms and will keep a close eye on them.

"We've have mamas. We've gotten our for traffic tickets, busted taillights, low-level offenses," Gatson said. "Some couldn't afford $100 or $300 bond, so there they were stuck."

According to Chief Justice Zel M. Fischer in his January State of the Judiciary address:

"The court must start with non-monetary conditions of release and may impose monetary conditions only if necessary and only in an amount not exceeding that necessary to ensure safety or the defendant’s appearance. The court may not order a defendant to pay any portion of the costs of any conditions of release without first considering how to minimize or whether to waive those costs. A court may order a defendant’s pretrial detention only if it determines – by clear and convincing evidence – that no combination of non-monetary and monetary conditions will ensure safety of the community or any person. The new rule also limits how long a defendant may be detained without a court hearing, and ensures a speedy trial for those who remain in jail."

Gatson said before the reforms, the bail system created a cycle for people living in poverty.

"We've have mamas we've gotten our for traffic tickets, busted taillight, low level offense," Gatson said. "Some couldn't afford $100 or $300 bond so there they were stuck. A traffic ticket can land you in jail because if you don`t have the money to pay it, you would get a warrant for it."

According to 2015 data form the Jackson County Detention Center and Regional Corrections Center, more than 80% of inmates facing state charges at the time were going through the trial process. Sixty percent of inmates at the RCC, on city charges, were released after their court hearings.

"If the presumption of innocence is going to mean anything, you should be able to have your life unless you're a danger and support your family before you have a conviction, or until you have a conviction," said Tricia Bushnell, director of the Midwest Innocence Project.

The Midwest Innocent Project fights for people convicted of crimes they say they didn't commit. Under the new rules, Busnell said judges will focus more on what needs to happen to make sure someone attends their court dates.

"We know that most people come back if you remind them, if you give them a phone call," Bushnell said. "Other than requiring people to put up money they don`t have. Here the court can require people to check in every week, they can say you have a curfew."

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