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(DETROIT, MI) —  The Washtenaw County Office of Public Defender and the national nonprofit The Bail Project have partnered to expand the nonprofit’s model of pretrial support and make it available to all  Washtenaw County residents awaiting trial. 

The announcement comes as newly-elected County Prosecutor Eli Savit instructs his office to no longer seek cash bail in criminal cases. While The Bail Project is known for providing free bail assistance to people who can’t afford it, the organization’s model of pretrial support is designed to demonstrate that cash bail is not needed in the first place.

“By using donations to post bail for those in need, we’re essentially creating the equivalent of release on recognizance,” said Twyla Carter, National Policy Director at The Bail Project. “Our data is clear that most people return to court without any financial obligation to us or the government. What actually helps is having court notifications, transportation assistance, and connections to social services and other resources based on your needs. We look forward to working with the County Public Defender to provide this support to community members.”

According to The Bail Project, it may still provide bail assistance in cases where judges set cash bail regardless of the prosecutor’s recommendations, but under Savit’s new directive, the organization expects to focus mostly on pretrial support after release. The Washtenaw County Office of Public Defender will be the main source of referrals, ensuring that indigent clients receive adequate support in returning to court dates and addressing basic unmet needs during the pretrial process. 

“We are very excited to announce the expansion of our partnership with The Bail Project,” said Delphia T. Simpson, Washtenaw County Public Defender. “The pre-trial assistance services fit well alongside all our other efforts to provide a holistic individual defense strategy for each of our clients. Ensuring clients have additional court date reminders, transportation to court, and solid connections to appropriate social services will not only prevent unnecessary jail time but also lead to a long-term reduction in recidivism.”

Research shows that needs-based models of pretrial support can be highly effective in ensuring high rates of return to court and addressing root causes of criminal justice involvement.

Cedric Smith, a Wayne County client who received support from The Bail Project while his case was pending, described the difference it made to have someone in his corner. “The Bail Project has helped me tremendously. Not only did they pay my bail, but they have consistently been supportive since my releases helping me to find employment and internships.”

IMAGE: flickr Amaury Laporte CC BY-SA 2.0

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