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National cash bail concerns don't impact SD

The Davison County Public Safety Center serves as the home for county lockup. (Matt Gade/Republic)

Cash bail systems are being re-evaluated nationally, but local officials say it may still have value in South Dakota because of the state's rural population and smaller jail population.

In Maryland, Illinois, California and New York, lawmakers have introduced legislation to remake their state's cash bail systems, using what's called "risk assessment." The argument against cash bail is it determines whether a person can afford to post bond as a condition of staying in or out of jail pending a court hearing.

According to the owner of Speedy Release Bail Bonds, Dan Lederman, bail bond agencies still have value in South Dakota because the price of a bond is typically affordable for most people. The majority of people will show up for their court date, but if they do not show up, the bail bond agents will take charge of contacting family to locate the person. Law enforcement is occasionally called for assistance, Lederman said, but not often.

Lederman manages 12 bond agents in South Dakota and said cash bail in a state where bonds are typically less than $1,500 does not face similar issues of inequality based on income as other states do. The argument against cash bail is it disportionately affects individuals who are from low-income households, which was recently published in a report in by the American Civil Liberties Union.

But Lederman said it's not an issue in South Dakota. Lederman said bond agents do the job of ensuring defendants show up to court by creating a network between the defendant, the bond agent and a family member. Bond agents do their own version of "risk assessment" by interviewing the defendant and evaluating their flight risk or potential danger to society.

"As bondsmen we can create a bond with the defendant and family members to hold them accountable," said Lederman, who also serves as chair of the South Dakota Republican Party. "We know the family members and we can contact them to save resources from law enforcement to make sure they show up to court."

Lederman argued that transitioning to a risk assessment system fails to take into account the likelihood of a defendant reoffending.

"Risk assessment is bigger in inner-city situations. The cash bails set in larger cities are typically more expensive," Lederman said. "In Mitchell, that is not just how it is. A judge may have seen that person many times before and already knows if a person is going to show up or not in many cases."

For individuals charged with a criminal matter, a judge sets a bail amount depending on the nature of the crime and a suspect's perceived danger to the community or flight risk. Whether or not an individual can post the cash bail determines if the individual will stay in jail or get out of jail while awaiting the next court hearing.

"I think the way the judges operate in Davison County with the current bail system we have now works just fine," said E. Steeves Smith, a public defense attorney in Mitchell. "The judges do a good job of evaluating if a defendant will show up to court and sets the bonds appropriately."