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Memphis' district attorney will push bail reform despite critics blaming it for crime increases

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Memphis’ new district attorney is pushing forward with bail reform to “level out the playing field” despite critics blaming progressive policies for increasing crime. 

“This will level the playing field so it’s no longer two justice systems,” Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy told Fox News. “People that have money get bailed out; people that don’t have money languish behind bars,” 

Mulroy was sworn in on Aug. 31, making him the first Democrat to hold the position in decades. He campaigned on a progressive agenda, vowing to prioritize violent crime, fix the “broken bail system,” implement restorative justice and expand Juvenile Court jurisdiction to age 25, among other policies. 

“We need to move to a system where … the presumption is in favor of pretrial release” except in cases of “very serious violent crimes” or if there’s “specific credible evidence that that particular defendant is either a danger to the community or a risk of flight,” Mulroy said.

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Shelby County District Attorney General Steve Mulroy plans to push forward with bail reform.

Shelby County District Attorney General Steve Mulroy plans to push forward with bail reform.
(Matt Symons for Fox News Digital)

Mulroy expects to have individualized hearings where judges set realistic bail amounts based on a defendant’s ability to pay.

“We have a system in this country — and it’s true here in our county — where you have lots of people who are locked up waiting for their day in court,” Mulroy told Fox News. “They haven’t been convicted of a crime.”

“They’re waiting for their trial months, years, sometimes, simply because they can’t afford cash bail,” he said.

About a quarter of people held in Shelby County wait 500 days before appearing in court, according to Mulroy. A “substantial number,” he said, are released without conviction.

Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy is the first Democrat to hold the position in decades.

Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy is the first Democrat to hold the position in decades.
(Matt Symons for Fox News Digital)

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But by then, “they’ve lost their jobs, they’ve interrupted their education, their careers, you’ve disrupted their families,” Mulroy told Fox News. “And all because they can’t afford cash bail.”

“A similarly situated defendant who does have money, who can afford the bail, spends those months or their years outliving their lives,” he added.

Mulroy also said “it’s racially disproportionate. The longer you are here in the bail system, the more likely you are to be Black.”

Critics have argued that bail reform gives accused criminals the opportunity to re-offend after their release, contributing to an increase in crime.

“Time and time again, our police officers make an arrest and then the person who is arrested for assault, felonious assault, robberies and gun possession is finding themselves back on the street within days — if not hours — after the arrest,” New York Mayor Eric Adams, for example, said. “And they go on to commit more crimes within weeks, if not days.”

Darrell Brooks, charged with killing six people and injuring dozens after plowing through a Christmas parade, was released on a $1,000 bail five days before the attack.

Darrell Brooks, charged with killing six people and injuring dozens after plowing through a Christmas parade, was released on a $1,000 bail five days before the attack.
(Mark Hoffman/Pool via REUTERS)

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Darrell Brooks Jr., who’s been accused of killing six and injuring more than 60 at the Waukesha Christmas parade in 2021, was released on a $1,000 bail five days before the attack. He already had a 50-page rap sheet dating back to 1999, which included convictions for violent felonies, and had an active warrant out of Nevada.

“There’s always potential costs and risks to any change in the system,” Mulroy told Fox News.

Studies on the effect bail reform has had on crime have had mixed results.

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Crimes went up 20% in New York in the first two and a half months after the state’s bail reform laws took effect in 2019, according to a Manhattan Institute report.

But the Brennan Center For Justice found no clear connection between crime increase and bail reform law. The study noted that crime rose across the country in 2020 and that relatively “few people released under the new law went on to be rearrested for serious offenses.” 

“If there is a conviction, then they these people will spend time behind bars, as they should, because they’ve been convicted of a crime,” Mulroy said. But “we’re still presumed innocent until proven guilty in this country.”

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