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New rules for The Bail Project: Fair regulation or an attack on the poor?

'These folks need to be regulated just like anybody else'
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Posted at 3:44 PM, Mar 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-02 19:09:19-05

INDIANAPOLIS — After a night out celebrating a friend’s birthday, Michael Kasnick took an Uber to a buddy’s house to sleep it off.

Dawn was just breaking when Kasnick entered the duplex unit through an unlocked door and promptly passed out. One big problem: It was the wrong house.

The residents woke to find a sleeping stranger on their couch. They called the cops.

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Michael Kasnick

Kasnick was arrested and charged with residential entry in October 2019. The crime is a felony. Kasnick was facing a possible sentence of up to 2-1/2 years in prison.

He spent a few weeks in jail, unable to scrounge up money for bail. At the time, his dad was battling cancer and he was in college and working construction jobs.

“Bail was set at $1,000. I didn’t have this kind of money,” said Kasnick, 26. “I don’t know how long I would have sat in there without their help.”

The help came from The Bail Project, a non-profit that pays bail for those who can’t afford to pay.

Kasnick went to his court hearings, accepted a diversion agreement and his case was dismissed in May 2021. He credits The Bail Project for allowing him to stay in school and keep his job.

The Bail Project under fire

But the group has faced a barrage of criticism in recent months after three people it helped get out of jail were later accused of committing violent crimes. Two of the defendants were accused of murder; a third has been accused of stabbing two police officers.

Indiana lawmakers have cited headlines in these cases to justify changes that will set new limits on The Bail Project and similar groups.

David Gaspar, The Bail Project’s national director, said the proposed changes are unfair.

“Every citizen facing an allegation is presumed innocent until proven otherwise,” Gaspar said. “The problem nowadays is cash bail. Cash bail is the practice of asking someone to come up with a sum of money in advance, prior to them actually having their day in court in order to secure their freedom."

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David Gaspar, The Bail Project’s national director.

This, Gaspar told WRTV, creates one system of justice for folks with money and another much harsher system for the poor.

“What the Bail Project is seeking to do is level that playing field,” Gaspar said. “We’re restoring that fundamental right; that constitutional guarantee to everyone… which is the presumption of innocence.”

The Bail Project says it has paid the bail for 980 people since 2018 when it first launched in Marion County. Most of them are people a lot like Kasnick.

According to The Bail Project’s 2021 report to the Marion County courts, about 6-in-10 of their clients need a ride to their hearings; about 71% have children or are pregnant; about 51% are unemployed.

The Bail Project reminds its clients of their court dates and helps find them transportation. It refers people to social service agencies for further help with mental health services, addiction counseling, housing, job placement and other issues.

Limiting charitable bail groups

But it’s those headline-grabbing stories of violence and tragedy that prompted two lawmakers to author bills that regulate The Bail Project and similar nonprofits.

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Sen. Aaron Freeman

"So these folks need to be regulated just like anybody else," Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, said. "In my opinion, a bond agency has capital on the hook. They post a bond and they have to go get the person if that person absconds, or doesn't show up for their court appearance. They've got a financial interest to make sure that the judge in this case gets that defendant back in front of them."

Freeman’s bill has been folded into a similar measure in the House authored by Rep. Peggy Mayfield, R-Martinsville. Differing versions of Mayfield's bill won approval in the House and Senate.

The bill will go to a conference committee to work out differences, Mayfield told WRTV. The date for that committee has not yet been set.

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Rep. Peggy Mayfield

Mayfield said her bill actually brings fairness to the bail system.

"We wanted them to follow the same rules as anybody else posting bail," Mayfield said. "It's a highly regulated industry and we just thought it fair that they'd be regulated in the same way."

'Two-tiered' justice

Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, strongly opposes the changes. He said the bill further penalizes the poor by valuing zip codes and bank rolls over justice.

“It is a two-tiered system, the haves and the have-nots,” Porter said. “They (poor people) don't have a get-out-of-jail card… I equate this to Monopoly, the board game. You get out of jail because you live on Broadway. You don’t get out of jail because you live on Indiana Avenue.”

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Rep. Greg Porter

But as a member of a minority party in a state where Republicans hold a super-majority, there’s little Porter and other Democrats can do to stop the measure from passing.

The changes are not final and could be overhauled in the conference committee, Mayfield said. As the proposal stands, charitable bail organizations will have to register with state insurance regulators; can only assist people charged with misdemeanors or non-violent crimes; and can pay bails that are no higher than $2,000.

Private companies

Devin Moore, president of Moore Surety Bonds Agency in Indianapolis, told an Indiana Senate committee on Jan. 11 that his bail agents keep in touch with the families of people they bail out and watch for signs that an individual might be planning to commit another crime or violent act.

"We make sure that these individuals come back to court and we also make sure that if they are allowed out on bonds, that they are following the rules and regulations of our state," Moore told the committee.

Private firms keep no statistics on how many of their clients commit crimes while they are out of jail, a lobbyist for the American Bail Coalition told an Indiana House committee on Jan. 25.

The Bail Project gathers statistics and keeps tabs on its clients, Gaspar said. He notes the proposed new rules do not set any limits on the private bail bond firms.

What the changes do, Gaspar said, is “criminalize poverty.”

“It keeps people who have no means in custody for longer periods of time. And for those individuals, that is beyond harmful,”Gaspar said. “You already have somebody who's living paycheck to paycheck. You already have somebody who's just struggling to pay the rent; that’s struggling to put food on the table. And now you're incarcerating them, putting them even further behind, putting them deeper in a hole.”

MORE: Indianapolis gave $150K to group that bailed out man accused of killing girlfriend | Hogsett says he would support audit of city grants that gave $150k to group that bailed out man accused of killing girlfriend | FOP president demanding that local leaders close the justice system's 'revolving door' | Prosecutor files attempted murder charges against man accused of luring, stabbing IMPD officers | Indianapolis gave $150K to group that bailed out man accused of killing girlfriend | Mom wants The Bail Project reined in after her son was gunned down in Indianapolis | Senate proposal would require additional oversight for The Bail Project

Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at or on Twitter: @vicryc.