Chittenden County State’s Attorney eliminates cash bail requirement; urges statewide action

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BURLINGTON, Vt. – Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George has eliminated cash bail requirements in her jurisdiction and is calling on the Vermont Legislature to make statewide changes.

“We will no longer be a part of putting a price tag on freedom and criminalizing poverty,” George said. “Instead, for all criminal charges filed in Chittenden County, pretrial detention will be based on public safety, not wealth.”

Advocacy groups including the ACLU of Vermont have voiced support for the changes, but Grand Isle County State’s Attorney Douglas DiSabito said cash bail is a necessary practice.

“When I ask for bail on certain cases, it’s because the record supports that,” DiSabito said. “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, and if people have a record of not showing up, we want to ensure that they’re going to show up in the future.”

George’s office may still seek detention in limited cases where someone is charged with a violent felony and they pose a safety risk.

Falko Schilling, advocacy director for the ACLU of Vermont, said eliminating cash bail has been a priority of the ACLU for awhile now.

“The primary purpose of cash bail is to ensure that people show up for trial. We know from the research it’s not necessary, because people still show up without cash bail, there’s enough threats from the criminal legal system,” Schilling said.

While DiSabito mostly discussed why he intends to continue requiring cash bail in Grand Isle County, he also mentioned that he represents Vermont residents as a whole.

“My position is that bail is appropriate in certain circumstances, and we shouldn’t have a blanket policy of no bail,” DiSabito said. “I’m not second guessing what she’s doing, but I want to make sure the lines are clear that Chittenden County has specific borders, and once you’re outside of Chittenden County that policy doesn’t apply.”

On that subject, George and the ACLU of Vermont are pushing for cash bail elimination to be taken up by the Legislature for statewide implementation.

“We’ve seen during the course of the pandemic when prosecutors were not asking for bail at the same levels, it has significant impact in reducing our prison population without impacting public safety,” Schilling said. “What State’s Attorney George has done is show it’s possible to eliminate cash bail from our criminal legal system, and this is something we’d like to see other State’s Attorneys adopt and have the Legislature adopt on a statewide basis.”

George’s office is working closely with the defense bar to strike bail in any cases where it may still be in place, and are seeking to return those individuals to their community while their cases are pending.

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