A measure that would cut down on the use of cash bail in Oklahoma moved from the Senate to the House this week.
Senate Bill 252 would require bail hearings within 48 hours of arrest. Bail would be set no higher than needed to assure a defendant returns to court, but unless someone is charged with a violent crime as defined in statute, they would be released on a recognizance bond.
Sen. Casey Murdock said the proposal sounds like "catch and release."
"I believe Lady Justice should be blind, but I don’t think she should be deaf and dumb also," Murdock said.
Thompson said the list of violent crimes precluding people from a recognizance bond, which took him almost two and a half minutes to read on the Senate floor, is sufficient to protect people. Bail may even be denied for those crimes.
"You talk about the protection of the citizens, this bill does protect the citizens. Who it does not protect is the bondsmen," Sen. Roger Thompson said in debate.
Tulsa County bond agents collected more than $4.5 million in fees last year, fees that are not refunded if charges are dismissed or someone is found not guilty.
Thompson said changing the bail system is a crucial part of criminal justice reform.
"If we’re really interested in individuals who are going to become productive citizens, they tell us the longer they sit in jail, the more opportunities they’re going to have to lose their job and their family," Thompson said.
According to an analysis from Open Justice Oklahoma, people arrested for nonviolent misdemeanors spend up to six weeks in jail before trial. Those accused of nonviolent felonies are there nearly six months.