Bail reform panel report suggests that state unlikely to end cash bail

It appears Massachusetts will not follow some other states and eliminate cash bail in the court system — that’s if the state follows new recommendations from the Legislature’s bail reform commission.

After a year of meetings, the Legislature’s 19-member bail reform commission unanimously approved several recommendations in its report on the cash bail system released last week. The report also included new statistics showing racial and gender disparities in how bail is set.

Based on data from the state’s trial court, the commission found that bail amounts were higher for non-white defendants compared to their white counterparts. More than 19 percent of non-white defendants had bail set at more than $5,000, compared with about 11 percent of white defendants. Also fewer non-white defendants than white defendants were held on less than $1,000 bail (53.7 percent to 63.2 percent).

Trial court data from cases primarily heard in 2018 also showed judges released more women defendants compared to men (89.3 percent versus 77 percent), and three times as many men were held without bail.

On its weighing of cash bail, the report said commissioners found there was no need to eliminate the practice in Massachusetts because of recent changes to the rules for setting bail.

“I think people felt like we were early in the process of change so it’s kind of difficult to make any major course corrections because we didn’t know if what we had done to date is working,” said committee co-chair Cindy Friedman.