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Richmond prosecutors will no longer seek cash bail bonds

(AP) The chief prosecutor in Richmond says he will no longer seek cash bail bonds for criminal defendants awaiting trial.

Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring told The Richmond Times-Dispatch the current practice of seeking bail bonds is “unfair” and leaves many defendants unable to afford to get out of jail.

Bail bonds are often set for defendants to try to ensure they will show up for trial.

Herring said he’s instructed prosecutors to make an assessment of a defendant’s risk to the community. If they don’t believe the defendant poses a risk, they can recommend to a judge his or her release without bond, but with pretrial conditions. Prosecutors can still ask judges to hold defendants they believe pose an unacceptable risk.

The move away from cash bail has gained support in other jurisdictions, including New Jersey, where cash bail was all but eliminated in 2017. A recent report from the New Jersey judiciary shows the number of defendants being detained before trial dropped by 20 percent in the year since the bail system was overhauled.

In Philadelphia, District Attorney Larry Krasner announced in February that he had instructed city prosecutors not to seek cash bail in many criminal cases, including 25 misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. Krasner said at the time that his decision would correct a criminal justice system that discriminates against African-Americans, Latinos and poor people.

Bill Farrar, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, said Herring’s decision will have a “huge impact on the lives of thousands of people in the Richmond area and their families.”

“What we know about the current system is it is inherently biased against people of color and people who can’t pay,” Farrar told The Associated Press.

“We don’t see any overriding evidence that cash bail works for the purposes it was intended for,” he said.

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