Abolish Cash Bail in Criminal Justice System

Abolish Cash Bail in Criminal Justice System

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1. What's Cash Bail?

Three out of 5 people in U.S. jails today have not been convicted of a crime. This amounts to nearly half a million people sitting in jails each day, despite the fact that they are legally innocent of the crime with which they have been charged. Most jurisdictions in the country operate a cash bail system, in which the court determines an amount of money that a person has to pay in order to secure their release from detention. The cash amount serves as collateral to ensure that the defendant appears in court for their trial.

2. What is Wrong with Cash Bail?

In effect, the cash bail system criminalizes poverty, as people who are unable to afford bail are detained while they await trial for weeks or even months. American courts set significantly higher bail amounts for black individuals than they do for white individuals, which is only compounded by the likelihood that people of color are more likely to serve pretrial time for accused crimes. Cash bail perpetuates inequities in the justice system that are disproportionately felt by communities of color and those experiencing poverty. The money bail system only exacerbates the existing, egregious disparities in our justice system. Spending even a few days in jail can result in people losing their job, housing, and even custody of their children.

3. How can We Fix the Problem?

As we continue to address inherent inequalities, racism, and classism in the American criminal-justice system, reforming bail is a simple next step. Nearly 70% of those held in pretrial detention are accused of nonviolent crimes, which leaves little justification for the violations of freedom enforced against those who can’t afford bail. In ending cash bail, jurisdictions must redesign their pretrial systems with the goal of reducing the overuse and misuse of jails. This starts with a presumption of release, which places the burden on prosecutors to prove the need for detention and limits qualifying offenses for detention to only the most serious offenses. Although it may seem counterintuitive, sending fewer people to jail and minimizing the use of pretrial detention shows promising results toward making communities safer while shrinking the footprint of the criminal justice system and saving taxpayer dollars.