Otterness and Jahner: "More conversations needed" around bail reform

Courtesy of: Cass County Government
Courtesy of: Cass County Government

(Cass County, ND) -- Officials within Cass County are gathering together to discuss the intricacies of bail reform.

Both Cass County Sheriff Jessie Jahner and West Fargo Police Chief Dennis Otterness joined WDAY's Jay Thomas Show to talk about the disputed topic. The two officials are looking to have a more in-depth conversation about bail reform, and what it currently looks like within Cass County. 

"We just think there's gotta be a bigger conversation other than just a wholesale elimination of a program that really was designed to assure peoples appearance in court," Otterness said to listeners on the Jay Thomas Show, "That's what bail is for."

Jahner says they've attempted larger-scale bail reform during the height of the pandemic. The Sheriff describes how they let non-violent offenders stay home, and report to their court summons. In that time period, the need to issue warrants "skyrocketed" way beyond the normal level. Jahner also describes an "extremely successful" version of bail reform the Cass County Sheriff's department is currently using. The program limits its members, but allows people who have committed crimes to still remain within the public.

"A candidate cannot have any charges related to violence; simple assault, domestic assault., "Jahner says, listing the criteria to participate within the program, "A candidate cannot have any protection orders; they cannot be a registered sex offender, have any escape charges or convictions."

The bail reform system currently in use allows for a maximum bail amount of $500 for certain alleged offenses. Jahner says a program like this allows for forgiveness and reformation of people who have misstepped in their past. 

"These people are individuals who have low bond. We are getting them out and getting them back in their community. We are trying to get them on the 'straight and narrow'. It's not like we're forgetting about some of these individuals. We do have programs in place where we are trying to help people."