The Bottom Line: Poll shows overwhelming bipartisan support for overhauling state cash bail system

Jacqueline Pitts

By Jacqueline Pitts, The Bottom Line

FRANKFORT, Ky. — On Tuesday, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce released a statewide public opinion poll that shows broad public support for improving the way the Commonwealth approaches its pretrial justice system. Currently in Kentucky, someone charged with a crime must pay cash bail in order to leave jail before trial. Those who can’t afford to pay remain in jail even though they have not been convicted.

A phone survey of 625 registered Kentucky voters conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy from Dec.12 through Dec. 15, 2018 on behalf of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce found that 76 percent support reforming Kentucky’s bail system so that those charged with a nonviolent, nonsexual crime can be released from jail while awaiting trial through a bail process that does not require cash payment.

“These numbers confirm there is strong consensus behind a top agenda item for the 2019 session of the General Assembly, transitioning the system to focus on the offense and offender rather than on their financial means,” said president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Dave Adkisson.  “Our organization has been and will continue to be deeply committed to reforming our criminal justice system in ways that increase public safety while also improving how our state and local resources are allocated.”

A Pegasus Institute study found 64,123 non-violent, non-sexual defendants detained in 2016 because they could not afford their bail, staying an average of 109 days.  At the same time, there were 43 high-risk, violent or sexual offenders who were released after posting bond.

In 2017, local governments lost $152 million because of Kentucky’s current bail reform system. In July of 2018, 73 percent jails were at or over capacity and close to ten jails were at or over 200 percent capacity.

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has endorsed House Bill 94, introduced by Rep. John Blanton (R-Salyersville), which would help end the use of money bail as the main way defendants are held in jail pretrial. Watch an interview with Rep. Blanton about the issue on The Bottom Line.

The Mason-Dixon survey found 75 percent of registered Republicans, 76 percent of Democrats and 82 percent of Independents support reforming Kentucky’s bail system.

The survey grouped voters in five regions; Louisville Metro, Lexington/Bluegrass, Northern Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky and Western Kentucky.  All regions supported reform at a rate of 70 percent or higher.

Those interviewed for the survey were randomly selected from a phone-matched Kentucky voter registration list that included both land-line and cell phone numbers. Quotas were assigned to reflect voter registration by county.

The margin for error is no more than ±4 percentage points and higher for any subgroup.

For more state government news go to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s The Bottom Line blog.

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