FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA) — Washington County’s Quorum Court voted Thursday to encourage the criminal justice system to not discriminate against incarcerated individuals who simply cannot afford to pay bail.
The court voted 13-1 in favor of ombudsman Stan Adeleman’s resolution. It encouraged the county’s criminal justice agencies “to adopt the principle no person should be detained in the Washington County Detention Center awaiting trial solely because of their inability to obtain pre-trial release through additional bail/bond.”
The daily cost of holding a single prisoner in jail is $63. A chunk of these people have bonds but simply cannot afford them, so they remain in jail until their trial.
Sheriff Tim Helder said he understands why the ombudsman wanted that philosophy ratified.
“He simply wanted it in writing that the court agreed that nobody should be in jail simply because they’re poor, and I don’t think by and large the court disagrees with that,” Helder said. “I don’t disagree with that.”
Helder said the county jail’s overcrowding calls for some sort of change, and he’s quietly optimistic some worthy upcoming steps may help certain worthy inmates. Still, he said he’s worried.
“It’s always a concern for me that we’re gonna release the wrong person,” Helder said. “On the surface, they may appear to be somebody that just doesn’t have any money. Otherwise, they’d be out of jail and they’d be a productive member of society. What about that one that we do release and they go out and commit a major crime?”
State Sen. Greg Leding said said he agrees with the resolution and hopes to see even more done.
“We’re most often talking about people who have not committed violent crimes, and to be clear, they haven’t necessarily even been found guilty of these crimes,” Leding said. “They’re simply being held, and they can’t make their cash bail, so it’s a financial burden on the county.”
Helder said anywhere from 25-50% of Washington County inmates are too poor to pay bail.