November 20, 2020
Today, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt discussed pretrial release and bail practices during a public meeting hosted by the Oregon Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
DA Schmidt joined Carl Macpherson, Executive Director of Metropolitan Public Defender; Shaun McCrea, Executive Director at Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers; and Brook Reinhard, Executive Director at Public Defender Services of Lane County.
“We know that cash bail brings disparity into our pretrial system,” said DA Schmidt. “It fails our system across the spectrum and it doesn’t help to advance public safety. Having a system that requires cash leads to discriminatory results for people who do not have money, which results in significant downstream consequences for that person.”
“You are more likely to be held on cash bail if you are in the BIPOC community. We also know that if you are held pretrial, you are more likely to be convicted, you are more likely to be incarcerated upon sentence and you were more likely to receive a longer sentence. That system is having a disparate impact on our BIPOC community in Oregon as well as nationally, and that is yet another evil of cash bail,” said Macpherson, the Executive Director of Metropolitan Public Defender.
DA Schmidt – who supports the elimination of cash bail – impressed upon the committee that thoughtful, front-end decision making is needed when determining whether to incarcerate someone pretrial.
DA Schmidt stressed the importance of implementing consistent data collection to track and understand jail demographics and population. As of 2020, Oregon’s 36 counties operate on approximately 16 different jail management systems, which often results in inconsistencies with data collection and reporting. Additionally, DA Schmidt urged a standardization in defining “failure to appear.”
In 2016, a group of public safety leaders, including representatives from Oregon’s Criminal Justice Commission, law enforcement, judiciary, district attorneys and criminal defense attorneys traveled to New Mexico to examine how that state has reduced its reliance on cash bail as much as possible.
“I think we were all feeling very confident about our system and we thought things are pretty good in Oregon … but when we came back we all thought to ourselves, ‘Wow, we have a long way to go. There’s a lot of change we can do,’” said DA Schmidt.
Oregon received a technical assistance grant in 2016 from the national Criminal Justice Reform Project to help look at reforming the state’s cash bail system. In Multnomah County, the Safety and Justice Challenge selected our local jurisdiction in 2015 to analyze public safety and to reduce jail bed use while ensuring public safety. That work is ongoing.
The Oregon Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is examining: (i) The effect of pretrial detention and release in Oregon; (ii) Communities disproportionately impacted by bail requirements; (iii) Bail practices and its impact on access to justice; and (iv) Solutions for addressing the effects of pretrial detention and release.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights plays a vital role in advancing civil rights through objective and comprehensive investigation, research, and analysis on issues of fundamental concern to the federal government and the public.