Commentary

I’ve been through our pre-trial systems. They need serious reform.

May 20, 2022 3:20 am

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When I was 19, I was sentenced to 14 months in prison for trafficking prescription drugs. I had been homeless for three years; I had dropped out of high school, gotten addicted, and been arrested multiple times.

I’m now the founder and CEO of a multi-million dollar company. I started Honest Jobs to help bridge the gap between formerly-incarcerated job candidates and potential employers. Over the past four years, our company has raised nearly $3 million in venture capital funding and helped over 600 companies manage their fair-chance hiring programs. Our job candidates are hard-working individuals who are ready for their second chance.

But here in Ohio, our bail systems are actively taking people out of the workforce.

When an individual is arrested, a judge makes a determination as to whether they will be freed while awaiting trial, and what the conditions are for doing so.

Often, people are faced with an unbelievable choice: pay their bail and go home, or sit in jail for weeks or months at a time.

Everyone being held on bail is legally innocent, and the majority of them are accused of non-violent crimes; many will never serve prison time even if found guilty. They are left in jail exclusively because of their inability to pay.

Our current systems are making our communities more dangerous. Research has shown that time in jail can substantially increase the likelihood a person will commit another offense. That’s not to mention the incredible costs to Ohio’s taxpayers — it costs roughly $65 a day per detainee for pre-trial detention, but it costs just $5 a day to keep someone on supervised release.

Members of the legislature have proposed a constitutional amendment — House Joint Resolution 2 — which they claim is meaningful reform. It isn’t.

To be clear, I agree with supporters that public safety should be a factor in determining if someone can be released pre-trial. But the reality is that judges already consider the risks to public safety as a factor in making these decisions.

Once again, our current bail system actually undermines this process. Poor individuals are locked up just because of their financial status, while dangerous — but wealthier — defendants can pay their way out and walk free.

Basing pre-trial release decisions on whether someone has money is the opposite of making a choice based on community safety.

Notably, other states that have passed significant bail reform have experienced no resulting increase in crime. Judges need additional resources to support individuals who aren’t a threat to their communities, rather than more constraints to keep them in detention.

Fortunately, here in Ohio, there are two proposed bills that do just that. Senate Bill 182 and House Bill 315 are the product of months of bipartisan consideration and negotiation to help reform our pre-trial system.

These bills increase options for pre-trial release, while still allowing judges the discretion they need to detain truly dangerous defendants. I commend the sponsors and supporters of this legislation for working towards meaningful change — not posturing for political points. 

Two-thirds of individuals being held in Ohio’s jails are in pre-trial detention.

Our facilities are filling up with people who could be at home, in their own communities, contributing to the economy and supporting their families.

Instead, they’re sitting in cells waiting for a hearing just because they can’t afford to pay for their release.

I have been through these systems. I know firsthand that they aren’t working.

We need changes to our bail procedures that support individuals, communities, and our economy, instead of increasing punitive measures.

We need bail reform that works for Ohio.

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Harley Blakeman
Harley Blakeman

Harley Blakeman is the founder and CEO of Honest Jobs, a company focused on bridging the gap between formerly incarcerated job candidates and fair-chance employers. He is a graduate of The Ohio State University Fischer College of Business.

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