Bail Reform in Kennebec County

Kennebec County has introduced three new initiatives to reduce the amount of time people living in poverty and with mental illness spend in custody before being convicted, and to help affected inmates battle addiction.

The Press Herald recently covered the new initiatives, describing the risk-assessment based bail system and medication-assisted program designed to help inmates fight drug addiction, as the first of their kind in Maine.

The current cash-based bail system, according to officials, often means that poor people spend more time in jail waiting for a trial than their potential sentence if convicted. A person accused of the same offence, but with access to more financial resources, can simply pay cash bail and be released. The new bail system assesses accused offenders for risk of reoffense or not showing up for court. Only those deemed high risk would be required to pay cash bail. The evidence-based risk assessment system has already been in use by Maine Pretrial Services for 10 years and has demonstrated a high success rate. Other factors considered in the assessment include the nature of the crime and the wishes of the victim.

People struggling with mental illness who are arrested often experience this same extended jail time, but in this case, time spent waiting is for a mental competency assessment to see if they are able to stand trial or be found criminally responsible, and for resources and connections to services that could help them. The new reforms include a monthly “mental health docket” in court, similar to one already in place in Cumberland County. Due to a lack of beds in mental health centers, people with mental illness who are accused of minor offences can end up in jail or in emergency rooms (neither of which are designed to treat mental illness) while they are waiting for evaluation before their case can move forward or be dismissed. The monthly mental health docket would expedite these cases and help connect those unlikely to be able to stand trial with resources that could help prevent their return to court.

The new in-jail medication-assisted treatment program would provide addict inmates with Suboxone as a condition of their acceptance into the program. Other program requirements include treatment, counseling, drug testing and living in a sober house run by the program for a year after their release.

We are proud to be part of a state that is looking out for those of modest means and other marginalized communities. How we can better serve these communities is an important question to ask, and it isn’t until we begin to ask these questions that we can find solutions that are fair and equitable to everyone. To learn more details of the new reforms, read the full article here. #accesstojustice #A2J




Photo credit: Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan