In the year after former Chief Justice Nancy Rice created a blue ribbon commission to study bail reform statewide, Colorado’s legislature is taking small steps toward overhauling bail practices.
The details of a new Colorado pretrial release program measure may change in the search for best practices, but proponents’ arguments for the need for reform haven’t: Supporters say moving away from cash bail stops the de facto criminalization of poverty and saves money spent on locking up people who aren’t actually a threat to society.
“If they have money, [jail] can be a very unpleasant but short experience. If they don’t have money, it can be six months or more just because they’re waiting for their trial,” said Attorney General Phil Weiser. “That’s not justice. We can do better.”
Two bills addressing pretrial release reform passed in this year’s legislative session, including House Bill 19-1225 that eliminated cash bail for traffic, municipal and petty offenses.
But a third bill, House Bill 19-1226, was left in limbo. It passed the House on May 1 but ran out of time after introduction in the Senate. It would have required counties to develop pretrial release screening programs, including the use of risk assessment algorithms.
In a news release about Gov. Jared Polis’ budget request, Weiser said he supports budgeting $6.5 million for creating pretrial release programs in all of Colorado’s counties. Weiser said that since bail reform has been a work in progress, proponents aren’t starting from scratch for the next session. “I think the matter is having the calendar on our side instead of against us.”