Get Money Out of Larimer County's Bail System
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Money bail is a discriminatory criminal justice practice that unfairly impacts the poor. Under this system, people who have not been convicted of a crime can be held in jail for weeks or months simply because they cannot afford bail. The purpose of bail is to ensure someone will appear in court and won’t pose a risk to public safety. It was never meant to serve as a punishment. But while wealthier defendants post bail and walk free, indigent and vulnerable people often stay locked up.
In Larimer County’s overcrowded jail, up to two-thirds of the total population on any given day are pretrial defendants. While some of these people are ineligible to be released on bond, many are just unable to afford bail—essentially jailed for being poor. According to an official at the Larimer County Sheriff's Office, at the time of this writing around 50% of jail inmates are bail-eligible but lack the funds to go free.
We are calling for an end to the oppressive system of money bail in Larimer County. People lose their jobs when detained pretrial and their families suffer. Poverty and incarceration becomes a vicious circle. Individuals experiencing homelessness are an especially vulnerable target. Many end up in jail after failing to appear in court for minor violations, such as panhandling or sleeping in public. Once locked up, even a bail of $100 is often impossible for them to pay. Up to 30% of inmates in Larimer County Jail are considered homeless or transient, with many likely being unnecessarily detained due to their financial status.
Larimer County must lead the way in Colorado by eliminating financial conditions for bail. In doing so, we will be joining with progressive municipalities like Washington, D.C., which has outlawed money bail with great success. In the D.C. system, which stopped using cash bail in the 1990s, nearly all people arrested are released under community supervision rather than being held in custody. Almost 90% of them return for their court date and do not commit another crime while free. The idea that financial conditions are necessary to ensure court appearance and public safety is a myth that must be abandoned.
Getting money out of the bail system is not only socially just, it is also cost effective. According to national figures from the Pretrial Justice Institute, jailing a defendant is more than ten times as expensive as monitoring in the community—$75 a day for pretrial detention versus around $7 a day for community supervision. Incarceration also exacerbates mental and physical health problems for inmates, leading to increased healthcare costs borne by the public. In light of these facts, funding is not a legitimate excuse for inaction on this issue.
Join us in asking the Larimer County Board of Commissioners to take a stand against money bail in our criminal justice system.
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