WASHINGTON COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA) – Seven hundred and fourteen inmates in jail.
“We’re in a situation that we’ve got to do everything we can,” Washington County Chief Deputy Jay Cantrell said. As of Monday night, 99 of them spent the night on the floor. “We’re for anything that will help reduce our jail population and get people off the floors,” Cantrell said.
Cantrell says over half of the jail population is made up of people waiting to see a judge. Some are non-violent offenders who can’t pay their bail – that’s where the non-profit the bail project comes in. “We’re hoping that’s the group they can target the people that don’t have the resources or don’t have the family members or can’t come up with the money, enough money to post that bail,” Cantrell said.
The bail project pays off a person’s bond before their court date. Benton County Circuit Judge Jon Comstock had the idea of bringing the group to Washington County. “They’re presumed innocent they have not been convicted and so they’re entitled to their freedom under our criminal justice standards but because of poverty they can’t have that freedom,” Comstock said.
Comstock says he’s seen first hand the two types of people who come to court – Those who could afford their bond and those in shackles because they couldn’t.”In other words, if someone reached into their pocket and pulled out $200 cash and put it on the table, someone’s freedom would be given to them,” Comstock said.
He says the bail project will decide who is eligible for the help and they’ll also remind them of upcoming court dates and offer transportation if needed. “It’s not going to get 99 people out in the first week but if it gets 15 out in the first few weeks that’s the 15 more than we would’ve got out,” Cantrell said.
The project’s communication director says they plan to launch their program this month. For more information about The Bail Project head to their website.
“What is The Bail Project? The Bail Project is a national nonprofit that provides free bail assistance for people in need, reuniting families and restoring the presumption of innocence. Our national revolving bail fund pays bail for low-income individuals who are legally presumed innocent, and whom a judge has deemed eligible for release from jail before trial contingent on paying bail. We enable our clients to return home to their families and communities while awaiting their court dates. We then provide court date reminders, referrals to voluntary social services, and pretrial supports such as transportation to help clients make their court dates. We call this model Community Release with Support. As our clients’ cases close, bail is repaid and can be recycled to help additional clients. In addition to these direct services, The Bail Project collects data and human stories to support local advocacy and reform. Through these efforts, we seek to reshape pretrial justice for generations of Americans to come, bringing us one step closer to ending mass incarceration and racial and economic disparities in the U.S. criminal legal system. ”