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Cuyahoga Co. to test reform to bail system that advocates say currently 'punishes the poor'

Posted at 6:38 PM, Oct 24, 2019

CLEVELAND — Cuyahoga County will soon be testing major changes to how it assigns and calculates bail for suspects in its justice system. Advocates for bail reform say the criminal justice system punishes the poor and keeps suspects in jail before a conviction.

“You know, truthfully, this whole idea about bail really is something that’s punishing the poor,” Brandon Chrowstowski said.

Chrowstowski owns EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute and employs people who are transitioning out of the criminal justice system and back into the workforce.

“Someone who can’t be afforded the luxury to be able to get out, get back to work and be back with family,” Chrowstowski said, “And it’s just doing nothing but stretching many of us out that go through the system.”

Cuyahoga County will soon test out a bail reform policy that could send felony suspects home without paying bail based on a risk assessment.

Chrowstowski said the price should fit the alleged crime.

Under the new policy, felony suspects will be entitled to a pretrial risk assessment, which considers someone’s criminal record, financial means and family situation.

“Has this person been in the court system before, and if they have, have they been diligent about showing up for their hearings?” Judge John Russo said. “Or have they skipped town and had a warrant issued for them? Those type of things.”

The assessment is designed to eliminate bias and help judges determine if a suspect poses a serious threat.

“If you came in and you were someone who may have a higher risk of re-offending or not showing up, but not one that is so high that you should have a cash bond, then we could give you a no cash bond, but maybe want to put an ankle monitor on you,” Russo said.

Bail reform advocates at the ACLU of Ohio said they support the idea of change in Cuyahoga County, but fear some pretrial restrictions may still land suspects behind bars unfairly.

“In Cuyahoga County if you’re required to have it based on the Court of Common Pleas, then you’re charged $56 a week for your GPS monitor,” Claire Chevrier said. “That’s cost prohibitive for some people and some people there are forced to make the decision to go back to jail because they can’t afford their GPS monitor.”

Russo said the system could potentially be in place as early as January 2020.

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