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Policy Group Calls For Curtailed Use Of Bail In Allegheny County

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

A report released by the University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics is calling for judges in Allegheny County to rely less on bail to keep tabs on suspects awaiting trial on non-violent charges.

The report found that more than 80 percent of inmates in the county jail have not yet been tried for their alleged crimes. Former U.S. Attorney Fred Thieman said that number is one-third more than the national average. Thieman co-chaired the task force that wrote the report.

The report recommends that judges work to lower that rate, which Thieman said would start with decisions made about bail.

“There are now proven risk assessment tools that can very much help with those bail decisions that judges make at the early stage of the proceedings,” Thieman said.

The report encourages judges to use those data-driven tools to allow more people accused on non-violent crimes to be released without having to post bond.

Credit Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Via the University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics' Criminal Justice Task Force Report, "Criminal Justice in the 21st Century: Improving Incarceration Policies and Practices in Allegheny County."

Not only does such a move lower the costs of running the jail, but Thieman said it also could lower recidivism rates. People held in jail while awaiting trial are also 40 percent more likely to commit a crime in the future than those not held prior to trial, he said. 

“Being held in jail because they don’t have the money can be devastating to their housing situation, to their family situation, to a job,” Thieman said. “And so in some regards, what we think is preserving public safety is doing just the opposite.”

The study also called on judges to give more consideration to the use of alternative treatment options for suspects of non-violent offenses who suffer from drug abuse and behavioral health issues. The study found about 75 percent of the inmates in the Allegheny County jail would qualify.