Utah Latest State to Repeal Cash Bail Reform As Advocates Push for Bail Reform in Colorado
In 2020, Utah passed bail reform legislation to address what some lawmakers claimed was concern for indigent people stuck in jail who were unable to afford their bail. After a mere six months in effect, last week, on March 25, 2021, Utah Governor Spencer Cox signed a bill, House Bill 220, that entirely repealed the 2020 legislation, House Bill 206. This effort was led by Utah law enforcement officials, many of whom began planning the repeal effort as the law took effect on October 1, 2020.
Utah becomes the third state in recent memory to embark down the road of bail reform only to quickly move to repeal it, joining most recently New York in April, 2020 and Alaska in 2019. The most recent bail reform playbook has usually meant expanding required personal recognizance bonds, restricting judicial discretion to set bail, and restricting police officer discretion to arrest. New York’s law was significantly rolled back after only having been in effect for three months, also largely at the urging of law enforcement. Alaska similarly repealed most of its bail reform law after less than a year in effect. Other states continue to reject bail reforms, like North Dakota or in California, where the voters rejected a ballot initiative to end cash bail.
If you want to get a clear picture of how bail reform has gone wrong on felony defendants in personal recognizance bonds, listen to the testimony of Harris County (Houston) District Attorney Kim Ogg. DA Ogg ran on bail reform, which she has implemented in some lower-level cases, like Colorado did two years ago. But when it came to felony bail reform, which has now been implemented in Harris County, personal recognizance bonds in felony crimes have skyrocketed, and crimes while on bail in Harris County tripled between 2015 and 2020 as a result of bail reform.
As Colorado looks at bail reform, it merely needs to simply look west, south, and east to realize that Senate Bill 21-062 in restricting the arrest powers of police to arrest suspects and judges the ability to impose appropriate bail is not a needed reform in Colorado and will likely have unintended consequences. There isn’t much bipartisan agreement on much of anything right now—but these pushes for citations rather than arrests and personal recognizance bonds in these high-risk cases by way of restricting police and judicial discretion is causing problems that are blind to political affiliation.
Houston, we have a problem…