Road to reform: Pretrial program aids bail, bond program in Youngstown

Local News

Youngstown Municipal Court was accepted as one of six courts by the Center for Effective Public Policy as it continues to reform the bail and bond system in the Valley

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The Youngstown Municipal Court is one of six courts nationally, and the only municipal court, taking part in a unique program that court officials hope leads to a more fair bail and bond pretrial process.

Last year, the Youngstown Municipal Court launched a pretrial process of interviewing arrested individuals to determine their risk to society.

The information from the interview is handed over to the judge and used in determining if the defendants will be released on bond or free to go and come back for their trials.

“They don’t talk about the offense that’s at issue because they have a right not to say anything against themselves, and we don’t want to violate their constitutional right,” Judge Carla Baldwin said. “But they get a little background — where do you live? Do you work? Have you served in any of the armed forces? Do you have any drug addiction issues? Do you have any mental health issues? Then, they get their prior criminal history.”

In February, the court was accepted as an Advancing Public Pretrial and Research (APPR) Learning Site by the Center for Effective Public Policy.

As an accepted court, Youngstown Municipal Court will receive one year of technical assistance from APPR to stakeholders involved and help them improve the bail and bond process.

The new program engages key stakeholders in the community such as the police department, Bar Association, the Raymond J. Wean Foundation, the Mental Health and Recovery Board, Sheriff’s Office, Community Corrections Office, Community Initiative to Reduce Violence, City of Youngstown Law Department and United Returning Citizens Inc.

Chief of Probation David Megura said when they launched the program last year, people were afraid that releasing individuals from jail with non-monetary conditions would lead them to commit more crime. He said they did not have that experience, though.

Last year, they had a 93% success rate.

“In 2019, the data that we collected, we didn’t have concrete evidence of when monetary bonds were being set, but 93% success rate pretty much proves that it was working at that point,” Megura said.

Melinda Vath, a pre-trial services officer, explained the success rate.

“The success rate would mean they were either sentenced, dismissed on the case, they did not have a capias failure to appear, they did not pick up a new charge while out on bond, they did not violate a condition of the bond,” Vath said.

Vath said last year, they had 159 referrals, and so far this year, they have 184 referrals. She said she is not sure whether the rise in referrals is because the program is working or because of the pandemic.

At the end of the day, Baldwin said it’s all about creating a better Youngstown.

“It’s easy to replace good, but it’s hard to replace great, and that’s what we’re working toward here because that’s what the citizens of the Valley deserve,” she said.

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