The Delaware Attorney General's Office has announced it intends to pursue lower bail and fewer charges in an overall effort to move nonviolent offenders out of jail and into alternative settings.
“Prosecutors have the power to charge or not to charge; to choose which charges to bring; to offer a plea or not, and to recommend a sentence,” said Attorney General Kathleen Jennings in a press conference Feb. 18. “These decisions substantially impact peoples’ lives, their sense of justice, their liberty, their livelihood, and their families, in addition to the community’s fundamental faith in the system.”
Effective immediately, Jennings said, the office is revising policy for charging, bail and sentencing for nonviolent crimes that do not involve children, violence or domestic violence.
For nonviolent offenders, she said, prosecutors will no longer charge multiple minimum mandatory crimes when one crime accounts for the facts of the event. Offenders with substance abuse problems will be moved into treatment centers, and other nonviolent offenders will be considered for community-based programs or home confinement when applicable, she said.
“If we don't recommend the right sentence, the recidivism rate is not going to go down,” Jennings said.
Changing bail requirements will also help keep some nonviolent offenders out of jail, she said. For those offenders, prosecutors will request unsecured bail – a departure from secured bail which requires a cash deposit and can land someone with no money in jail, she said.
In cases involving simple possession of marijuana or marijuana drug paraphernalia, Jennings said prosecutors will encourage civil citations. Alternatives to prosecution will be encouraged for prostitution, too, she said.
Working with probation and parole, Jennings said, the office hopes to avoid technical probation violations for probationers – many of whom are employed – that could land them in jail.
“I have learned all too often, people don't even have a car to get to work, and they're on probation and they get the bus home at night and it's later than they're supposed to be home,” she said. “We don't want to send those people back to jail. That's just wrong to do so.”
Jennings said she opposes arrest warrants issued for people who fail to pay their fines when the person is unable to pay in the first place. She also opposes suspending someone's driver's license for the same reason.
In all cases, Jennings said, deputies will continue to take into account harm to the victim and the victim's need for justice. Deputies will still consider each case individually, and they can deviate from the new guidelines depending on the facts, she said.
New guidelines in the Attorney General's Office are only the first step in changing Delaware's criminal justice system, Jennings said.
“We are working with the Legislature toward legislation that will further balance and [equip] the criminal justice system to be more fair,” she said.