Orange-Osceola attorney amends bond policy to remove 'poverty penalty'

Nonmonetary release to be recommended for nonviolent offenders

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced Wednesday that her office has amended its bond policy and will begin recommending nonmonetary release for nonviolent offenders.

Officials said in a news release that the revised policy, which will go into effect beginning June 1, will apply to individuals who do not pose a threat to the community and who give no indication that he or she will miss future court dates. 

“Economic bias has no place in our justice system,” Ayala said. “By primarily relying on money, our bail system has created a poverty penalty that unjustifiably discriminates against those without resources to pay. Our focus must be on public safety, not on wealth.”

She listed low-level, nonviolent crimes including possession of marijuana, driving with a suspended license, panhandling, loitering and disorderly conduct as possible instances where the new policy could be applied.

Release on recognizance will not be recommended for anyone who is charged with a crime associated with domestic violence, stalking, firearms or other dangerous felonies. It's also possible that nonmonetary release will be denied for people who have been convicted of violent crimes in the past.

Ninth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Fred Lauten agreed that current bond methods negatively affect people who are economically disadvantaged.

“There is a national movement toward nonmonetary bond,” Lauten said. “One of the issues with monetary release is it benefits the wealthy while it is an impediment to people with lesser means.”

In Orange County, officials said 75 percent of people held in county jail while awaiting trial are there because they cannot afford to post bail. In January, that amounted to nearly 2,000 people.

Officials from the state attorney's office said that pretrial detention can have a negative effect on employment and health and could prompt innocent people to plead guilty so that they can be released from jail.

"Incarcerating individuals who are awaiting trial is extremely costly to taxpayers, and under the current custom, people of color have borne the heaviest burden due to historical discrimination, contemporary bias, and unequal resources," a news release said.