Jefferson District Court Chief judge halts controversial bond re - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Jefferson District Court Chief judge halts controversial bond review practice

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Metro corrections is the largest jail in Kentucky with 1,793 beds. Metro corrections is the largest jail in Kentucky with 1,793 beds.
LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) -- Jefferson District Court's chief judge has put a halt to a controversial practice in which one judge was reviewing bonds of inmates after 24 hours, often releasing defendants on home incarceration in an effort to decrease jail overcrowding.

Jefferson County Attorney Mike O'Connell on March 12 wrote a letter to Chief Judge David Holton alleging the practice was illegal and allowing dangerous inmates to be released into the community without prosecutors having any say.

Holton issued an emergency order last week halting the process in which Judge Sean Delahanty was reviewing the bonds of all inmates who were unable to post bail after more than 24 hours in jail. At least for the time being, the judge who handles the arraignment of a defendant will also decide the bail conditions.

O'Connell  wrote to Holton that “for reasons that have never been explained to me, 24-hour reviews are conducted solely and exclusively” by one of the 17 Jefferson district court judges, instead of cases being given to each judge randomly as required by the state Supreme Court.

In an interview Wednesday, Delahanty said the review process has for decades been part of the Kentucky Rules for Criminal Procedure that requires the court to reconsider an inmate's bond if they are unable to post it within 24 hours of arraignment. It wasn't until 2011, however, when jail crowding became a safety problem that the judges began implementing the practice.

Delahanty, who initially reviewed the bonds with former Judge Donald Armstrong, said about 4,000 inmates have had their bonds altered by the process since 2011, most given home incarceration.

The release of those defendants has saved the jail $65 a day in housing inmates, he said.

“We are talking about millions of dollars here we have saved the county,” Delahanty said. And it has helped prevent overcrowding issues that had caused Metro Corrections to reopen an unsafe 60-year-old jail above the Louisville Metro Police Department headquarters in 2013.

The 1950s-era jail lacks fire safety systems and has failed to meet state certification requirements for decades. However, Metro Corrections Director Mark Bolton has said he has to open the old jail if inmate population tops 2,050 inmates for three straight days.

Delahanty said jail population has, at times, been below the 1,793 capacity in recent months.

Without the 24-hour review process, “there's a distinct possibility by September” inmates will be back in the old jail because of overcrowding and federal officials will have to intervene, Delahanty said.

Bolton agreed with Delahanty, noting that jail population has already started climbing again since Holton's order.

"As we move forward, the HIP count will come down and the in custody population will go up," he said.

In an interview, O'Connell said it is not Delahanty's job to worry about jail overcrowding.

"If Judge Delahanty wants to work on the jail reduction policy, then maybe he should run for Metro Council," he said.

In his letter to Holton, O'Connell said that Delahanty was being allowed to decide bonds without any input from prosecutors, meaning “the county attorney's role is reduced to that of an idle bystander and his voice as an advocate muted.”

And O'Connell pointed to a handful of cases in which prosecutors would have “vigorously opposed” the release of an inmate had they had the opportunity.

For example, in December, a defendant was being held on a $5,000 cash bond after being charged with breaking into a home and putting a gun to the homeowner's head. Delahanty reduced the bond to home incarceration and Brown didn't show up for his next hearing. He was eventually arrested and his bond raised to $25,000.

Delahanty said “there is always a risk” anytime a bond is set but he has a lot of confidence in the home incarceration program, in which most defendants are tracked with global positioning system technology.

In an interview, Holton agreed that his ruling will likely lead to jail overcrowding issues but that the policy needed to be changed to keep "with the spirit of the law and the other 119 counties in Kentucky."

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