The Bail Assessment Pilot, which will run until the end of December 2019, accepts referrals from defense attorneys in cases where bail is likely to be set. Vera staff members interview the person or their family members to calculate ability to pay and then provide that information, on the record, during the bail hearing. In the pilot, judges hear two critical pieces of information—the dollar amount that a person can afford and the form of bail they could meet, such as an unsecured or partially secured bond. The emphasis on the form of bail is important. Research conducted in Colorado and New York shows that allowing people to pay more affordable forms of bail than cash or commercial bail bonds can increase the rate at which people are released without negatively impacting pretrial court appearance or arrest rates.

Momentum is growing across the country to transform bail practices and enact bail reform. Yet very few jurisdictions have entirely eliminated money bail. Places that have recently adopted new bail policies—like Harris County, Texas (Houston), and Philadelphia—have limited those reforms to mostly misdemeanor and low-level offenses. Even in New York, where in January 2020 a new law will go into effect that mandates release for almost 90 percent of all arrests, money bail will remain for people charged with most violent felonies, some domestic-violence offenses, and other serious offenses. (To learn more about New York’s new law, see New York, New York: Highlights of the 2019 Bail Reform Law.) Thus, under these reforms, when money bail is set, judges will still be required to consider a person’s ability to pay. In addition, in New York, judges must offer at least three different forms of bail, and at least one of those forms must include an unsecured or partially secured bond. In cases that will remain eligible for bail, tools like Vera’s Ability to Pay Calculator can help courts to make more equitable and informed bail decisions that are less likely to cause undue hardship.

For more information, please contact abilitytopay@vera.org.