Cleveland defendants living in poverty are joining the effort to reform Ohio’s bail system, which critics argue disproportionately affects defendants who are unable to afford their bond.
Monique Bartee is one of several defendants contributing to the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry’s current push to reform the system.
Bartee was charged with murder after her boyfriend broke into her home and started violently beating her in front of her young child. Afraid for their lives, she reached for a knife and stabbed her attacker to death.
Bartee’s murder charge was eventually dropped and she pleaded to reduced charges. She was offered the opportunity to bond out of jail but didn’t have the financial resources.
“I was already punished. I was just protecting me and my child. I did what I had to do,” said Bartee, who argued self-defense.
Bartee lost custody of her children and her job.
Charles R. See, Executive Director Community Re-Entry Program and Vice President Criminal Justice Initiatives at the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, tells News 5 it’s an extreme example of a serious issue for poor defendants in Cleveland.
“It boils down to financial resources,” See explained. “If you have the means, the criminal justice system treats you a little bit differently.”
He explained that even defendants with misdemeanor charges can spend weeks and even months in jail because they can’t afford bail. Meanwhile, defendants of financial means can often wait out the pretrial process from the comfort of their homes.
Anthony Walker was accused of drug possession and jailed for six weeks because he couldn’t afford a $5,000 bond. Walker was later cleared of wrongdoing and released.
But by that time he had already lost his job as a contractor.
“Of course I was angry about it,” Walker said. “But all that anger is not going to put food on the table. I had to get started again.”
Now, these defendants and others are pushing for reform to the system that would place a greater emphasis on flight risk and danger to society, rather than the accused’s ability to pay.
“We don’t need to keep people incarcerated that don’t need to be there,” See said. “There’s still a presumption of innocence here.”
Last week, an ad hoc committee of the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission released a report recommending changes, including additional risk assessment tools.
The bail reform recommendations are set to be voted on in June.