On Tuesday, the Durham County District Attorney’s Office announced that it is no longer seeking cash bail as a term of pretrial release in misdemeanor and low-level felony cases—a shift “away from wealth-based detention and toward a system based on safety,” according to a news release.

Durham isn’t doing away with cash bail entirely. Prosecutors can still seek bail for violent offenders and those accused of domestic violence. But under the policy, most individuals charged with nonviolent crimes will be eligible for pretrial release with a written promise to return for their court date. Alleged nonviolent felony offenders considered flight risks or potentially dangerous might be subject to house arrest or electronic monitoring. 

The policy also states that an unsecured bond—meaning a bond not secured by a down payment to a bail bondsman—“is disfavored and should not be requested without evidence and a request for a finding that the defendant has the present ability to pay it.” 

Arguing that pretrial incarceration “often results in little public safety benefit while causing great harm to individuals and increasing recidivism,” District Attorney Satana Deberry said in a release that the policy is “part of a larger effort to rethink when and why we impose incarceration, and to reduce unnecessary prosecution of individuals facing charges that often arise from poverty, mental illness, and substance use.”

Since the policy was put in place in February, the release says, Durham’s jail population has declined by 15 percent. 

Deberry was elected last year pledging to make reforms to the criminal legal system, including making changes to cash bail. Earlier this year, Deberry had applauded two Durham judges’ rewrite of the county’s pretrial release policy, which reform advocates said didn’t go far enough. (Interestingly, the news release was sent by the DA’s Office’s new communications specialist, Sarah Willets, who until earlier this month was a staff writer at the INDY, where she wrote extensively about the problems with cash bail—including the Durham judges’ new bail policy.)

Similar overhauls have been attempted elsewhere in the country. Last summer, California became the first state to pass legislation eliminating cash bail entirely; the law will take effect this October. Since then, New Jersey and New York State have eliminated cash bail for nonviolent and misdemeanor offenses. 

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