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January 15, 2021

1/1/2021 2:42:00 PM
Concerns about bail don't extend to Chisago County process, at this time

As of January 1 county prosecutors in Hennepin, and Washington counties will be halting requiring bail for a number of offenses.  The County Attorneys in these urban area jurisdictions announced their upcoming elimination of bail for 19 crimes. In the foreseeable future, however, Chisago County is not apt to join the movement.  The numbers and types of crimes here don’t seem to justify any categorical exclusions to bail, according to County Attorney Janet Reiter.

The approach to deleting cash bail in certain non-violent crimes is being explained as a way to make the justice system fairer, when it comes to economic hardship in posting bail.   It also helps exert some control on jail populations.  

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman in announcing the January 1 effective date, stated that people shouldn’t be punished for being poor.  
He and Pete Orput, Washington County Attorney, were joined at a news conference by MN Attorney General Keith Ellison expressing his support of the revised bail practices. He is quoted as saying ideally the issue of bail reform should be taken up at the state level by the legislature.

Chisago County Attorney Janet Reiter says this county is not looking to modify practices around bail. Case numbers are still manageable enough to review each alleged offender on a case-by-case basis and “...determine the most appropriate bail and whether it will be a factor in helping to maintain public safety.”

According to the Court Services Department at the Government Center Chisago County completed bail reviewals on 203 cases in 2019.

A system like Hennepin County, which saw 3,789 cases in the categories where bail is being excluded, and where 892 of these posted a bail sum, is not really comparable to Chisago County.

Reiter continued,  “I would not say that smaller counties are immune from the issue of what may be perceived as unfair economic hardships associated with the setting of bail. The issue may exist in smaller counties but simply due to the smaller populations and less crime or different types of crime, the impacts do not seem to be as significant.”

When a person is arrested they appear in court and there are categories of cases for which a pre-trial release evaluation form is completed by court services.  The data compiled and evaluation completion results in a risk level that assists judges and prosecutors in setting bail. Low risk may result in being released on conditions only and no monetary impact.

Amy Chavez, Probation Department Director reported that for 2020 (through mid-December) there were 45 low risk cases, compared to 52 in 2019.     

Reiter concluded that the county continues to be updated about the apparent disparate impact on individuals who are not able to make bail and be released prior to resolving pending charges. I think prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges are all more aware of the issue than we were several years ago.”  She said she was interested in hearing what Freeman and Orput had to say about their local bail analysis, but,  “The issue is fairly complicated and I don’t believe there is unanimity on the issue.”

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