Louisville activists release list of judicial candidates who support cash bail reform
Standing on the steps of Louisville’s Hall of Justice downtown on Wednesday morning, activists with the local chapter of the group Showing Up for Racial Justice released their list of endorsements in local judicial races.
For years, SURJ has knocked on doors in Jefferson County speaking with voters about eliminating the use of cash bail in most cases. The group also runs a court watch program, through which they document judges’ use of cash bail and other conditions of release. They decided their endorsements based on these programs, as well as a questionnaire sent to candidates. There are more than 15 contested judicial races in Jefferson County this year.
Alex Flood, SURJ’s Kentucky lead organizer, said the group is trying to “connect the dots between this year’s judicial elections and the consequences of our overcrowded and deadly jail.”
“In jails across the country, 80% of those behind bars are there simply awaiting trial with a price tag on their freedom set by a judge,” Flood said. “These are people who have not been convicted of a crime … They will often wait months, sometimes over a year, for a chance to defend themselves against a system that is already punishing them.”
In Louisville, where twelve people have died while in the custody in less than a year, Flood said not being able to afford bail can potentially be a death sentence. Holding people in jail while they await trial, SURJ says, can cost people their jobs, housing and families.
Some judges and prosecutors argue cash bail is necessary to ensure people accused of a crime show up to their court dates. Leaders of the local chapter of The Bail Project, a national nonprofit that pays the bail of people in need, however, say they have a nearly 90% success rate of getting people to court without the use of a cash bond. In addition to paying bails, The Bail Project also provides people with access to services like drug counseling, job placement and rides to court dates.
Judges in Kentucky have discretion about whether to use cash bail, home incarceration or release someone on their own recognizance. They also have discretion in setting bail amounts.
Democratic State Rep. Attica Scott of Louisville joined the crowd of activists who gathered outside the courthouse holding signs that said “End cash bail” and “No more deaths.” Scott said she believes the cash bail system disproportionately impacts people of color and working class residents.
“Society has decided that people who are rich are safe enough to return home, while the rest of us must wait in a jail that has no regard for our health, safety or wellness,” she said.
Scott said she supports activists' call to end the use of cash bail for low-level offenses, immediately review the bonds of all people being held pre-trial and make “presumptive release” the standard moving forward.
According to SURJ, the questionnaires judicial candidates received asked them about their views not only on cash bail and plans to build a new jail in Louisville. They also asked candidates whether they have concerns about the legal ramifications of Amendment 2, which would say there is no basis for abortion access protections in the state constitution, if the amendment is approved by voters. Amendment 2 is on the ballot this year.
Many of the judicial candidates SURJ endorsed have a reputation for being progressive, including attorney Ted Shouse who is running for a seat in Jefferson County Circuit Court. In 2020, Shouse organized a group of volunteer attorneys who represented many demonstrators who were arrested for participating in racial justice protests following the police killing of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor.
A full list of SURJ’s judicial endorsements is posted online.
To learn more about candidates in Jefferson County, including judges, visit Louisville Public Media’s voter guide.