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EDITORIAL: Initial results promising from Clark County’s speedier court process

The inherent problem of government inefficiency doesn’t mean public-sector innovation is an impossibility. Consider a new program in the Clark County courts that allows low-risk offenders to get in and out of jail faster.

As the Review-Journal’s Shea Johnson reported, Clark County officials started the Initial Appearance Court program in January 2019. The program makes a judge available twice a day, every day — including holidays and weekends. The judge oversees custody status reviews and probable cause hearings. Depending on the circumstances, a defendant who can’t post bail can be released with a written promise to return or an electronic monitoring device.

In 2017, low-risk defendants remained in custody for an average of 58 days, according to data from the Metropolitan Police Department. This consolidated process allows defendants who would have struggled to make bail to return home quickly, which has a host of benefits. “I don’t want to be overdramatic, but you’re changing somebody’s life if all of a sudden they’re not losing their job, they’re not losing their apartment,” Public Defender Darin Imlay said. “The snowball effect is huge.”

There are other benefits, too. County officials believe that decreasing the amount of time someone spends in jail lowers their likelihood of being arrested. In 2018, the year before this program started, 14 percent of these types of defendants were arrested again before their initial case had been resolved. Last year, that rate was 8.8 percent. There are a couple of logical explanations for this. If defendants don’t lose their jobs, they have less incentive to commit another crime. Also, because they’re spending less time behind bars, they’re spending less time around other criminals.

This program is also reducing overcrowding at the county jail. Last year, the number of bookings increased by 10 percent. The average daily inmate population, however, fell slightly. That’s because the average length of stay dropped from 20.1 days in 2018 to 17.9 days in 2019.

The success of this effort is in stark contrast to some other bail reform efforts around the country. New York implemented a new law eliminating bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felons at the start of this year. That has led to rampant abuse. Reports reveal that one subway thief has already been arrested — and freed — six times. Another man was arrested and freed three times in one day. Another man was arrested for robbing a bank, freed and robbed another bank hours after his release.

In contrast, Clark County’s program so far has both helped low-risk offenders and increased public safety. That’s a huge positive and a credit to all involved.

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