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New poll: North Carolina voters support bail system reform, pretrial justice programs

As a state panel continues to examine reform options for North Carolina’s cash bail system, a new poll shows voters in the state support pretrial programs that eschew bail as a default and reducing arrests for low-level, non-violent offenses.

The poll, released last week by the Pretrial Justice Institute and Charles Koch Institute, consisted of phone interviews with 538 registered voters in North Carolina.

Conducted from May 2 – 17, 2018, the poll’s data were weighted by gender, age, education, party identification, race, and region. The margin of error is +/- 4.2%.

Among the poll’s key findings:

78% of North Carolina voters want to reduce the number of arrests for low-level, nonviolent offenses by issuing citations instead of making arrests.

77% of North Carolina voters favor providing court reminders or supervision for people awaiting trial in the community.

70% would prefer that decisions about detention be informed by an assessment that takes into account the arrested person’s possible impact on public safety rather than the risk of failing to appear in court for trial.

73% of poll respondents want to limit how many days people not charged with serious violent crimes can remain in jail before trial if they cannot afford money bond.

55% of respondents agree that white people enjoy substantially better outcomes from the criminal justice system than people of color.

Over the last year, Policy Watch has written extensively about the state’s current bail system and efforts at reform.

Our reporting has highlighted numerous examples of individual and systemic corruption within the bail systemthe system’s frequently unjust impact on the poor and the concerns of veteran jurists that profit and politics have compromised the original intent of state statutes dealing with bail as well as the presumption of innocence.

Many judgespublic defenders, reform groups and bail agents themselves agree the current system and the for-profit bail industry it feeds are badly flawed.

In a 2016 report, the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice called for pretrial justice reform – reform that would move the state away from a de facto system of requiring all criminal defendants to post cash bail in order be released from jail prior to their day in court.

Cherise Fanno Burdeen, chief executive officer of the Pretrial Justice Institute, said the new poll makes it clear voters support that direction.

“System stakeholders across North Carolina are taking up the work of improving their pretrial practices, and the state’s voters are ready for change to come,” said Burdeen in a statement released with the poll.  “North Carolinians believe their pretrial system uses jail too readily for people who are charged with nonviolent crimes, and they’re ready to move toward a system that protects fairness and ensures public safety.”

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