Getting Answers: Why do repeat offenders get out on bail? What goes into bail decisions?

We’re getting answers on how the issue of repeat offenders is being addressed in courts across the state.
Published: Nov. 9, 2023 at 5:38 PM EST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - “This is an all-hands-on-deck issue. No one entity can solve it. It doesn’t matter how much police or prosecution you have,” said Pamerson Ifill, Deputy Commissioner for pretrial services for Massachusetts Probation Services.

27 homicides in Springfield so far this year, a record-breaking number for the city.

16 cases have been resolved by the Springfield Police Department and the Hampden County District Attorney’s office meaning suspects have been identified and taken into custody.

While two of the fatal shootings were determined to be self-defense, according to court documents obtained by Western Mass News nine of those cases involve suspects who have been behind bars before.

We’re getting answers on how the issue of repeat offenders is being addressed in courts across the state.

“We do a lot to monitor and track, but I think you know that no system is perfect. I think the concerns of individuals reoffending and judges would spend a lot of time trying to understand and monitor and track but there’s no system that is foolproof,” said Ifill.

Ifill has spent more than 30 years working in the Massachusetts trial court system.

“A major part of my job is to create new programs and services within the pre-trial realm to bridge the gap between all of the different entities, whether it is the court or the district attorneys, programs, police departments, you name it,” said Ifill.

Ifill tells Western Mass News that while it’s nearly impossible to determine who will re-offend, the court system is making changes to try and lessen the problem –one of their new programs is an automated text system that sends out two different alerts reminding people ahead of their appearances.

“We are hearing directly from individuals, who say yes, I completely forgot and if I did not have that text message, I would’ve missed my court date,” said Ifill. “People are actually showing up for court and right now we are conducting surveys around the Commonwealth to talk to people who have not signed up and trying to understand what some of the reasons are and how we can improve the text messaging system, and whether or not it was helping.”

Another effort from the trial court, training around 25 employees on helping offenders sign up for health care.

“We live in a state where health insurance is supposed to be free, but in some of our courthouses, as many as 55% of people who come in are not enrolled. If we want to get people into treatment or mental health therapy, counseling, whatever it is that the judge thinks the person needs, we want to make sure that health insurance is not a barrier to that,” said Ifill.

Addressing a suspect’s mental health is part of what goes into a judge’s decision when it comes to setting bail for repeat offenders.

“Probably the fact there is the anomaly in the number of murders this year in the city, as opposed to the previous years, and I think the fact that you were saying the issue of addiction has become of greater significance. The issues of fentanyl, and so forth that causes such damage to individuals, which then can lead to other crimes,” said Springfield City Solicitor, Judge John Payne.

After digging into how many of those murder suspects were repeat offenders we wanted to know why more of them were not being held behind bars for their previous crimes.

Payne worked as a judge in Western Mass for over 20 years.

He tells us while bail is determined by statutory requirements under law it’s also dependent on the circumstances of both the crime and the person.

“There is a seriousness of the crime, but there are also issues such as is the person a local individual, but they have a residence, are they employed, are they a transient? And probably most importantly, do they have a criminal record and have they shown up to court in the past when they were required to show up to court?” said Payne.

Payne also tells Western Mass News it’s not always up to the judge to hold someone just to prevent them from reoffending.

Payne agrees with Ifill, it’s difficult to determine whether a person will go back out and commit a crime, especially if they regularly appear in court.

“You might not know when you hear a story like that whether or not the individual had bail placed on them, and then they made the bail. The judge is not allowed to place a bail on a person to keep them in jail. A judge is allowed to set what is a reasonable bail and someone who is able to post the bail and gets out while they are out based on that aspect,” said Payne.

But that doesn’t mean all suspects are let out on bail even if they do show up.

“If someone has a very serious charge brought against them the law does allow the District Attorney’s Office and this District Attorney’s Office is pretty aggressive about it to seek a dangerousness hearing.

Next week we’re sitting down with the Hampden district attorney to discuss dangerousness hearings and take a deeper dive into the previous cases of the repeat offenders in these 25 murders.