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EDITORIAL: Group hands out ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ cards

The true believers are often so blinded by ideology that they become their own worst enemy. Take the Bail Project and its ill-fated foray into Clark County.

The California nonprofit seeks to combat “mass incarceration by disrupting the money bail system — one person at a time.” The group, part of the push for criminal justice reform, raises money that it uses to cover bail for criminal defendants who may otherwise be unable to afford it.

Critics of the status quo argue that the bail system is inequitable because it penalizes the poor. Accused criminals with limited funds may be forced to spend weeks or months behind bars before they go to trial, while better-off defendants suffer no such confinement. For the former, this can trigger employment loss, homelessness and other hardships even if they are eventually acquitted.

Disparities will exist in any institution, no matter how well designed. But attempting to minimize imbalances in the justice system is a worthy goal. Solutions, however, must balance compassion while maintaining public safety. Too often, criminal justice reformers ignore the importance of keeping bad guys off the streets. A revolving door, catch-and-release approach does little to suppress crime or engender confidence in the judicial system.

Consider the Bail Project. This month, Rashawn Gaston-Anderson was sentenced to up to 18 years in prison for shooting a waiter 11 times during a robbery at a restaurant in Las Vegas’ Chinatown. Just six days before the shooting, Gaston-Anderson had been released from jail — where he was being held on burglary and grand larceny charges — after the Bail Project posted his $3,000 bond. The defendant also had a history of larceny and gun arrests.

The victim, who survived the barrage of bullets, is suing a number of parties, including the Bail Project, arguing the group did “no or little due diligence” when it decided to pay for Gaston-Anderson’s release.

This is not an isolated incident. An Indianapolis TV station reported in January that the Bail Project had bailed out three men in Indiana who went on to commit felonies, including the attempted murder of a police officer.

The organization’s national operations director admitted to the news outlet that the group often doesn’t even know the details surrounding the arrests of those it helps.

The Bail Project has shut down its Las Vegas office yet continues to operate elsewhere.

Re-examining how the criminal justice system handles pretrial detention, particularly for first-time offenders, is a noble exercise. But the Bail Project risks undermining that modest goal if it continues to operate under the delusion that virtually any criminal suspect can be turned loose on the community without consequence.

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