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The Bail Project defends efforts, says it’s out to help poor Hoosiers

The group helps indigent Hoosiers who have bond, but can’t afford to get out of jail, reporting it helped nearly 1,000 people in Marion County in about three years.

INDIANAPOLIS — The Bail Project says it stands by its work, despite criticism. Even after losing some support, the organization is working to help bail Hoosiers out of jail while they are awaiting trial.

"There is a constitutional right to have affordable bail," said David Gaspar, The Bail Project’s national director of operations.

Gaspar sat down with 13 Investigates for about 30 minutes to discuss what the group does and recent criticism it has received. While it’s a national organization, Gaspar has lived in Indianapolis for years, even before the nonprofit came to the Circle City. He said he and his small team of about five people are part of the community.

The group helps indigent Hoosiers who have bond set, but can’t afford to get out of jail, reporting that it helped nearly 1,000 people in Marion County in about three years.

Marion County judges suspended The Bail Project's support this past December. The Marion Superior Court told 13Investigates a meeting scheduled for Monday was canceled because The Bail Project asked for more time to gather information to submit to the court.

In 2018, the court issued a letter of support for the nonprofit project. The hope was it would help with efforts to abide by an Indiana Supreme Court order addressing overcrowding in Indiana jails. That letter allowed bail money paid by The Bail Project to be returned to the group. It would then use that money to help another person get out of custody. That’s not happening now since support was suspended.

RELATED: Court releases reports in support of suspending The Bail Project

In the last several months, the project group has also received criticism from the Indianapolis police union, and now lawmakers, after some clients were involved in violent crimes while out on bond. That includes Marcus Garvin, who police say killed his girlfriend while out of jail, and Deonta Williams, who is now accused of stabbing two IMPD officers.

Gaspar said those cases are the exceptions.

"First and foremost, mine and the agency extend condolences to the families that have incurred a loss," Gaspar said. "The reality is, we're always learning. We're always evaluating."

When asked if the group is making changes due to criticism, "No," Gaspar replied. "The short answer is no, and the reason being is we stand by our work."

Many clients are referrals, some from a defendant’s family and friends. Other referrals come from the public defender’s office. Before taking on a client, the group does an assessment. Not everyone receives The Bail Project's help.

"We want to make sure that we're not causing harm to those individuals, first and foremost," Gaspar said.

The Bail Project doesn’t just help people get out of jail. It also sends court date reminders and provides transportation, if needed. The project also links clients to job and housing services as well as support to deal with mental health issues and drug addiction. The group wants clients who want that extra help.

Defense Attorney Josh Levin with Levin & Diehl LLP said when a client is out of jail, they can better fight their charges. "Far too frequently, there are defendants who take a plea, not because they're guilty, because they just want to get out of jail," Levin said.

Quarterly reports show the average assistance provided by The Bail Project is $2,130. Most clients face misdemeanors and low-level felonies.

RELATED: State lawmakers take aim at violent crime in Indianapolis

However, the nonprofit said decisions aren’t based solely on charges. It is willing to help people charged with more serious crimes in some cases.

"At the end of the day, The Bail Project isn't in a position to post a bail without a bond review hearing and with a judge setting it appropriately," said Levin.

"Nothing's perfect, but it does help some people," said Robert Davis, a client who couldn’t afford to pay a $2,000 cash bond back in 2019. After a month in jail, Davis said his health deteriorated and he lost his car.

He was fighting his case for two years before it was dismissed.

Without The Bail Project, he said "no telling how long I'd be in there."

On Tuesday, lawmakers will host a hearing to discuss several crime bills, including one that will limit how many people charity bail organizations can help. It would also prevent them from using taxpayer money to help bail someone out of jail.

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