Mark Haase, who is challenging Mike Freeman for Hennepin County attorney, announced a proposal Monday to reform the cash bail process for defendants.

Currently, people who pay bail get the full amount returned after the case is resolved. Those who can't pay the full amount can pay a fee, usually 10 percent, to a bail bond company; that money isn't returned at the case's end, and the person must find a co-signer over 21.

Haase proposed several immediate steps to improve the cash bail system, including raising the "bail score" at which people are automatically released with conditions but without paying money.

He also would remove some of the bail evaluation criteria that focus more on income than the likelihood a person will return to court.

"Cash bail injects wealth bias into the justice system, punishes the poor, and makes us less safe," Haase said. "Minnesota law carries a strong presumption of pretrial release. It's time for Hennepin County to adhere to the spirit of that law. These policies will accomplish that."

Other changes he pitched ranged from expanding the type of charges eligible for automatic conditional release, and requesting bail only in cases where the accused poses a clear risk of flight, nonappearance or danger to the public.

Freeman, who has served as county attorney for the last 12 years, declined to comment Monday on Haase's proposals. But he recently said on his campaign website that he was open to discussing cash bail reform. He said that he has always supported pretrial release of defendants into diversion programs, and that his office has developed a risk assessment tool for bail to help more people stay out of jail.

Freeman said Monday that the number of jail inmates has declined the past several years, a sign that bail is keeping fewer people incarcerated.

"With all the changes I want to do if I'm re-elected, cash bail reform wouldn't be a priority," he said. "There are still levels of racial disparity in the system that need attention."

Haase said that it costs the county $135 a day for every person who stays in jail pending trial, and that studies show that not being able to make bail contributes to recidivism. Some states no longer use cash bails or allow the use of bail bond companies.

Haase said Hennepin County can build on the success in the bail process shown in Washington, D.C., New Jersey and California.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465