The state legislature in Indiana is looking to stop judges from reducing bail for violent criminals to next to nothing. It’s also looking to stop a charitable bail organization from stepping in to pay for the release of criminals back onto Indianapolis’ streets.
It’s part of a national pushback against bail reforms sparked by high-profile cases like Darrell E. Brooks, who had been out of jail for just five days when he killed six people by plowing his car into a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin in November,
A bill introduced this month by Indiana state Sen. Mike Young (R-Indianapolis) would prohibit judges from reducing bail for a violent offense, requiring they stick to the bail schedule in place in their county. For a second violent offense, bail would double.
The proposal, Senate Bill 6, would also require bail to be paid in cash for a violent offense, and paid by the person charged or by his immediate family. That would stop nonprofit groups like The Bail Project from posting bail to spring violent offenders.
“The Indiana Constitution is pretty clear that bail, except for murder, is available to our citizens, but it doesn’t say it has to be easy to obtain,” said Young at a hearing on his bill on January 11. “And we’re going to make sure it’s not easy to obtain, because Indianapolis and Marion County [and] our citizens are safer when they’re [criminals] in jail awaiting their trial than out on our streets.”
Indiana isn’t alone. In neighboring Kentucky, state representatives have introduced a bill seeking to make charitable or crowdfunded bail organizations illegal.
And in Wisconsin, Republican lawmakers are pushing legislation to keep more violent offenders behind bars until their trials. And Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, facing a competitive election later this year, has also signaled he’s open to tightening bail requirements.
“Wisconsin lives are in danger because of the low bail that soft-on-crime judges and DAs are currently setting,” state Sen. Julian Bradley, R-Franklin, said in a statement this month. “This revolving door for criminals must end.”
Indianapolis has been reeling from a spate of recent horrific crimes committed by violent criminals who had been released on pre-trial bond, with their bail paid for by The Bail Project. It is a national organization that employs “bail disruptors” in cities across the country, including Indianapolis.
One was Marcus Garvin, who stabbed another man at a Circle K gas station because he was angry the man was taking too long in the bathroom. His bond was reduced from $30,000 to $1,500 by Marion County Superior Court Judge Shatrese Flowers, and The Bail Project paid it, allowing Garvin to walk free wearing an ankle monitor.
A few months later, on July 30, 2021, Garvin killed his longtime girlfriend, Christie Holt, in a seedy hotel room and was caught on surveillance camera dragging her body into the woods, wrapped in a sheet.
At a Senate hearing earlier this month, a woman in a black dress stood up to give public testimony.
“I’m here to represent my son,” she said. “He was the 200th homicide in Indianapolis.”
The woman, Nikki Sterling, is the mother of Dylan McGinnis, who was gunned down at age 24 while he accompanied a friend who was buying drugs from a drug dealer.
“Dylan loved his family, his friends, the broken, the outcast, and the perfect stranger, and there are no words that can express the amount of our heartbreak and pain,” Sterling told the members of the Indiana Senate’s Corrections and Criminal Law Committee. “Added to my pain was the shock of learning that his alleged shooter and known violent offender, Travis Lang, had been bailed out of jail on a $5,000 bond with pending felonies by a charitable bail organization called The Bail Project.”
The Bail Project began operating in Indiana in 2018, and at first, focused on bailing out only nonviolent offenders. But that changed more than a year ago when the organization started helping spring people accused of burglary, assault, and even attempted murder.
But The Bail Project always had a political agenda. On its website, it makes clear that it has a problem with the criminal justice system, and with keeping people who have committed crimes behind bars.
“The Bail Project combats mass incarceration by disrupting the money bail system – one person at a time,” its mission statement says. “We restore the presumption of innocence, reunite families, and challenge a system that criminalizes race and poverty. We’re on a mission to end cash bail and create a more just, equitable, and humane pretrial system.”
Rick Snyder, head of the Indianapolis chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, has been railing against the “revolving door of criminal justice” in his city for at least two years.
“Here’s what I’ve come to realize,” he told the Senate committee. “And I’ve said this publicly: it’s coming to a neighborhood near you.”