Bail reform advocates make push for change in Kentucky

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The push to overhaul Kentucky’s often-criticized cash bail system is gaining traction amongst lawmakers and jailers in the commonwealth.

A cash bond system has been in place for several decades in Kentucky, but state Rep. John Blanton (R-Slayersville) has proposed eliminating the system and providing judges with more freedom in how they deal with people accused in non-violent crimes.

“In my 10 years on the bench, I've literally set tens of thousands of bonds,” said former Jefferson District Court judge David Holton. “I believe getting away from a cash bail system is the way to do things.”

Some people who are arrested in Kentucky are released within a day of appearing before a judge to set bond. Those people have the money to be able to post the bond. Others can be kept in jail for weeks or month if they can’t supply the necessary cash.

“You have people that can afford the bond to get out of jail, but poor people who can't afford the bond — they stay in jail,” Holton said. “And these people can be charged with the same offense under the same circumstances.”

Over the past year, reforming the current practice has gained momentum, but efforts last spring to change the law stalled in Frankfort in spite of bi-partisan support. According to jailers, one consequence of the current system is that it leaves some people in jail longer than is necessary.

“I do believe it’s necessary,” said Oldham County Jailer Mike Simpson. “Dealing with our court system and trying to get to that consistency is the challenge.”

One of the biggest issues currently facing criminal justice in Kentucky is overcrowding of county jails.

"When you're sleeping people on the floors in 76 jails and 12 prisons, you've reached the point where you've got to reduce that number," Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Secretary John Tilley said in August.

Some jailers believe revamping the bail system could help that issue.

“There are a lot of different reasons why we're overcrowded in our jail systems in Kentucky,” Simpson said. We do believe that would be one part of it to help get people out of jail quicker.”

However, eliminating the cash bail system has not received support for many in the law enforcement community.

Nicolai Jilek, president of Louisville Fraternal Order of Police – the union representing the Louisville Metro Police Department – said last year the movement might be more of a cost-saving measure by letting more defendants out, rather than figuring out how to more appropriately fund jails.

Holton fears that Blanton’s measure has too many loopholes but feels it is a good start.

The Kentucky Jailers’ Association has not yet taken a position on the bill.

“Anything that we can come up with, we're willing to sit at the table and discuss,” Simpson said.

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Travis Ragsdale joined WDRB in Jan. 2015. He focuses primarily on investigative reporting involving police, local government and infrastructure. He can be reached at 502-585-0817