What do the ACLU of Maine, the chief justice of Maine's Judicial Branch, and the LePage administration have in common? We all know it's time to reform Maine's pretrial system.
So we were thrilled when Chief Justice Saufley used yesterday's State of the Judiciary speech to announce a new initiative to reduce the number of people who are held in jail while awaiting trial who do not pose a flight risk or a danger to the public. The initiative reportedly has the support of Gov. LePage as well.
As our executive director, Alison Beyea, said in response to the announcement:
“We should lock up fewer people who don’t need to be behind bars. We are really excited about the broad coalition of people coming together to talk about this criminal justice reform and the realization that we are locking up too many people for too long.”
While the initiative has broad support, there seems to be some pushback from the Maine Prosecutor's Association. Depsite evidence to the contrary, the head of the association continues to argue that all of the people languishing in our jails - people who have not been convicted of a crime and pose no flight risk or threat to public safety - need to be there.
There is plenty to suggest otherwise. In fact, many of them are there simply because they can't afford the bail set for them, which creates a two-tiered justice system: poor people sit in jail awaiting their trial, while people with money get out and go about their regular business. As ACLU of Maine board member and defense attorney Molly Butler Bailey wrote recently in the Portland Press Herald:
"I can say for sure there are people in our jails who are there because they cannot afford bail. In fact, this describes most of my clients who are in jail pre-trial. Many of them have been accused of low-level crimes and pose no flight risk or threat to public safety. And while the bail set for them may seem low to some, it is unattainable to others. For some of my clients, $100 might as well be $10,000."
While there may be pushback against Chief Justice Saufley's proposal from a few folks, there is mounting evidence - and broad support - to back her. We look forward to working with all involved on these efforts for reform.