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Senate proposal would require additional oversight for The Bail Project

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Posted at 4:55 PM, Jan 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-11 23:34:17-05

INDIANAPOLIS — The mother of a young man gunned down in Indianapolis last fall urged state lawmakers to approve a measure that increases oversight of The Bail Project and similar organizations.

"My son Dylan McGinnis was murdered in the most senseless tragic and horrific way. The world was robbed of one of its truly special gifts," Nikki Sterling said, weeping as she testified Tuesday before the Indiana Senate Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law.

McGinnis, Sterling's 24-year-old son, was shot to death on Oct. 1, 2021.

The man charged with murder in McGinnis' death, Travis Lang, was free on bail in connection with a cocaine possession charge.

Some of Lang's bail money was funded by The Bail Project.

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Nikki Sterling, Dylan McGinnis' mother.

Sterling urged the panel to approve Senate Bill 8. The measure, authored by Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, requires charitable bail organizations to register with the Department of Insurance, caps the bails they fund at $2,000 and bars the groups from bailing out anyone accused of a felony.

It was one of five Republican-sponsored bills discussed in the committee aimed at fighting violent crime in Indianapolis and across the state. Other proposals would increase monitoring of defendants on pre-trial release; fund police overtime for additional patrols in high-crime areas; and require courts to go through additional steps before granting bail to defendants.

The Bail Project launched in Indianapolis in 2018 and pays bonds for people who don't have the money.

It's posted bail for nearly 1,000 low-income defendants; the average bail amount was $2,130; and clients appear for 95% of their court hearings, according to The Bail Project's 2021 report.

David Gaspar, The Bail Project's national director of operations, told the committee his group should be treated no differently than private bail bond agencies.

"Without our help, your constituents would have sat in jail before having their day in court while their lives outside, their families, their jobs crumbled," Gaspar said. "The services we provide the Hoosiers are free and come at no cost to the people we help, the government or the taxpayers."

Senate Bill 8, Gaspar said, ensures that more people will needlessly sit in jail simply because they are poor.

"Never mind that there is a presumption of innocence that is afforded to everyone accused of a crime or the fact that the for-profit bail industry can still bond out anyone who can afford their fees," Gaspar said.

The committee did not vote on the bill Tuesday.

The other bills discussed were:

Senate Bill 6: This bill, authored by Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, aims to reduce the number of violent offenders released on bail by requiring courts to review arrest warrants and hold open hearings. It also requires those arrested to pay the full minimum bail amount in cash.

Senate Bill 7: This bill, authored by Sen. Jack E. Sandlin, R-Indianapolis, establishes a Marion County crime reduction board that allows for more cooperation between police agencies.

Senate Bill 9: A bill authored by Sen. Kyle Walker, R-Lawrence, sets stricter standards and increases oversight for electronic monitoring and increases penalties for tampering with monitors. The measure allows for victims to be alerted if a person being monitored ranges outside designated areas.

Senate Bill 10: A bill authored by Sen. Michael Crider, R-Greenfield, establishes a pilot program to fund police overtime and additional services in high-crime areas.

The committee took no action on the crime bills Tuesday. It is expected to consider amendments during a hearing next week.

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

Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at victor.ryckaert@wrtv.com or on Twitter: @vicryc.