The Wisconsin Justice Initiative calls on U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson to stop airing misleading advertisements on the issue of cash bail in his race against Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.
“Bail and pretrial release are important public policy areas that deserve careful attention, not distortion in 30-second ads for partisan gain,” WJI President Craig Johnson said on behalf of the organization. Sen. “Johnson’s ads seem designed to scare the public, not enhance understanding of the important issue of cash bail in Wisconsin.”
WJI is a nonpartisan public advocacy organization that does not take sides in political races. Nonetheless, it’s important that the public is informed with accurate and helpful information during a heated political campaign.
“First and foremost, the public should understand that good bail decisions are made by relying on evidence. Increasingly, criminal justice professionals understand that public safety risk is best determined by following that evidence, not throwing darts at a board marked ‘cash bail,’” Craig Johnson said.
“There has never been a reform contemplated in Wisconsin in which cash bail was ‘eliminated,’ and the doors of local jails are just thrown open, as (Sen.) Johnson would have you believe,” he said.
Real reform, which has been supported in the past by Democrats and Republicans across the country, including U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, focuses pretrial release decisions on the threat to public safety, rather than how much money a person has, Craig Johnson indicated.
“Locking up low-risk poor people before trial with high cash bail while rich people who may be dangerous can buy their way out of custody makes no sense, but Sen. Johnson doesn’t seem to understand that,” he said. He noted that the U.S. Civil Rights Commission released a report last year that highlighted the disparities in the cash bail system.
“It’s important to remember that unnecessary pretrial detention has societal costs and creates a two-tiered justice system – one for the rich and one for the poor. We should also recognize that studies have shown strong correlations between the length of time a low or moderate-risk person spends in pretrial detention and the likelihood that they would be re-arrested later in life. In other words, detaining low-risk individuals has societal costs – it can make us less safe,” Craig Johnson said.
“Sen. Johnson’s ads would have you believe that the efforts of Lt. Gov. Barnes and others in the legislature would end cash bail without a solution focusing on community safety, and that’s just not the case,” Craig Johnson noted. “He should pull his misleading ads and demand that the corporate super PACs supporting him pull their ads as well.”
The United States Supreme Court stated in Salerno v. United States, 481 U.S. 739 (1987), that “(i)n our society, liberty is the norm, and detention prior to trial or without trial is the carefully limited exception.” The words were written by then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
“Sen. Johnson, as a member of one of the most respected political institutions in this country, should not be jumping into the gutter with these misleading and fear-mongering ads. They do not advance the dialogue on this important issue one bit,” Craig Johnson said.
He also noted the importance of accurate debate on this subject in advance of a possible constitutional amendment proposal for Wisconsin voters this coming spring.
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