Pretrial release system

MCCRACKEN COUNTY, KY — Is Kentucky's bail system constitutional?

The Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy is asking the state's Supreme Court to determine if it is.

The McCracken County Jail has been dealing with overcrowding for years. Jailer David Knight says the current bail system is a big part of the problem. He says some people stay behind bars because they can't post bail. 

And it's costing the jail lots of money.

"If we could get them out on a pre-trial release, then that would lower our overall cost, obviously," Knight says. "But it also increases bed room for state inmates who actually pay us."

Attorney Mark Bryant says the county could go broke because of the money lost with jail overcrowding. He believes the bond amounts are excessive for nonviolent crimes. He says the system of keeping nonviolent criminals in jail because of money is unconstitutional. 

"Let them go out there and work," Bryant says. "Let them take care of their families. And if they don't come back, they can re-arrest them if they don't show up. But I think we're going to have to get more lenient, not more stringent about people committing these crimes, because we have too many people incarcerated."

Commonwealth Attorney Dan Boaz says he understands the jails are crowded and costly, but the bail system ensures people show up to court.

Boaz says bail cost is based on the severity of the crime and the person's history, not their wealth. He says it's necessary to protect the public.

"The number one priority of any government should be the protection of the public," Boaz says. "So, that's where we have to weigh those on the scales of justice, as to we want to be fair to the defendant, but we want to keep the public safe as well."

Boaz says one way or another, something is going to have to be done to fix the issue.

McCracken County Circuit Court Judge Tim Kaltenbach says in Kentucky there's been an increase in the number of people missing their court dates. He says strict guidelines would need to be in place if people were released without posting bail.

"Can someone be safely released?" Kaltenbach asks. "They're presumed to be not guilty. And under what conditions? And what conditions should be imposed? And how stringently are those conditions going to be followed?"

Bryant says the department's decision to have the Supreme Court tackle the issue shows how severe it is.