“The State’s bail recommendation in this case was inappropriately low in light of the nature of the recent charges and the pending charges against Mr. Brooks,” according to the statement. “The bail recommendation in this case is not consistent with the approach of the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office toward matters involving violent crime, nor was it consistent with the risk assessment of the defendant prior to setting of bail.”
The statement from Chisholm’s office said they were “conducting an internal review of the decision to make the recent bail recommendation.”
“It looks like they just screwed up,” Rendelman said. “They dropped the ball, it really is that simple. I don’t think it speaks to bail reform.”
Prosecutors across the country this year have confronted a logistical challenge caused by the pandemic, balancing the need to move cases through the system with the risks of exposure that comes with defendants going to court and jail.
Officials have sought ways to keep defendants out of the system while still respecting the serious nature of allegations against defendants; in some jurisdictions it’s led to lower-than-normal bail requests or bail amounts in order to keep defendants out of jail. In some cases, those requests dovetail with prosecutor offices whose approach to defendants is more lenient than prosecutors have been for decades. It’s not clear what role that may have played here.
His prosecutorial philosophy, explained
“The most important thing we can do with those people is incapacitate them, so they can’t do any more harm,” he told Toobin.
Part of his approach was reducing the number of people Milwaukee County was sending to state prison for low-level drug offenses, but attempts to reduce racial disparities in prosecution and sentencing have been complicated by the racial makeup of violent crime victims and offenders, Chisholm said.
“Is there going to be an individual I divert, or I put into treatment program, who’s going to go out and kill somebody?” Chisholm told the Journal Sentinel. “You bet. Guaranteed. It’s guaranteed to happen. It does not invalidate the overall approach.”
Chishom’s office did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.
‘You can’t pin cash bail’ to violence spike
The term “bail reform” has loosely been used to describe any policy that results in a lower threshold for holding accused criminals in jail before they’re tried before a judge or jury, or before they plead out or prosecutors drop charges.
It’s not clear that reform efforts were to blame here: Chisholm’s previous statements have made a distinction between people accused of violence and accused of lower-level crimes. Brooks isn’t alleged to have committed violence while being out on low bail for a non-violent offense.
Chisholm was first elected before two instances of police use of force triggered nationwide protests and led to so-called progressive candidates running for election in local prosecutor races. Policies favored by progressive prosecutors are sometimes a sore spot for those in law enforcement, who frame them as being soft on crime.
“A judge has to make a determination at court ahead of time that the person is safe to reenter society before they can even get cash bail,” he added.
Chisholm has said his office should focus on keeping violent people in the system and non-violent people out; Brooks was accused of violence and a prosecutor still sought low bail. It’s not clear why the state sought low bail or why the judge granted the request.
His bail jumping charge stemmed from an incident in July 2020. Brooks had made bail on a gun charge earlier this year, in February, according to the statement.
There’s disagreement over bail reform’s link
Rendelman said prosecutors often have a cheat sheet they use to determine their bail requests, and she said it was unlikely that any bail request guide would suggest $1,000 was appropriate to request considering the allegations of both violence and not showing up for court.
“This case seems different because he has lengthy history, has indications that he’s not going to come back to court, and the case being brought against him, the allegations are extremely violent,” she said.
Prosecutors have wide discretion in arguing for high or low bail amounts for defendants facing trial, though it’s usually up to a judge to decide. Prosecutors also make those choices locally — prosecutors in one county might not prosecute a low-level drug offense while prosecutors two counties away seek years of jail time for the same allegation.
CNN’s Emma Tucker contributed to this story.