New York’s bail system is discriminatory and punishes poverty. Albany must fix it.
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It’s time for New York’s criminal justice system to stop punishing innocent people simply because they are poor. Our bail policies have created a two-tiered justice system where people with means are afforded due process, and people who are poor are incarcerated while they’re presumed innocent.
Due process should not be something you have to buy.
The intent of the bail system is to ensure that people with a court date show up in order to get their money back. If the people paying bail have to stay in jail because they can’t afford the bail requirements, that means they’re being incarcerated—even though they haven’t been found guilty of a crime— because they’re poor.
Presumption of innocence and the right to a speedy trial are cornerstones of our justice system, and cash bail undermines both. It punishes presumed innocent people as if they are guilty, and doesn’t allow them to return home—to their jobs and families—in a reasonable, and speedy, fashion.
No one should be treated differently because they are poor or because of their race.
New York state bail policies disproportionately victimize minorities and people who are not wealthy. If we want to change this, we have to change the way in which bail is determined. This starts with;
NO CASH BAIL
Cash bail is not a problem for wealthy defendants who can afford an almost literal get-out-of-jail-free card no matter what they’ve done. For the average person, accused of a crime but not necessarily guilty, ability to pay might determine whether you get to go home to your family and continue to earn income at your job, or whether you stay in jail until your trial starts. According to The Atlantic, as many as nine in 10 people stay in jail because they can’t afford to post bond. How many people can afford to have others look after their family or go without their only source of income for an extended period of time?
- Cash bail creates a two-tiered justice system: one for the wealthy, and one for everyone else.
NO RISK ASSESSMENT TOOL
Currently bail is determined by a combination of automated tools and judges’ subjective assessment. Both of these are flawed, and have inherent biases. Algorithmic risk assessment tools, in particular, aggregate statistics about people who are most frequently targeted by unfair policies. As a result, they deem the victims of those policies the most risky. Live in a poor minority neighborhood that’s had more arrests? Risks assessment tools assume you’re a bigger risk.
- Risk assessment algorithms systemically discriminate against poor and minority populations.
NO PRETRIAL DETENTION FOR MISDEMEANORS
Even aside from the presumption of innocence we are still obligated to punish crimes in a manner appropriate to their severity. Even if we did not have presumption of innocence, and we assumed everyone who is arrested is guilty, we still shouldn’t be detaining people for misdemeanor offenses.
But proportionality is important. Misdemeanors are, by definition, not a risk to public safety. Detaining people for them punishes people who can’t pay and adds absolutely nothing to our public defense, while destroying families and economic opportunity for people who need it.
- No one should have their economic livelihood and family destroyed because they can’t pay for being charged with a low level offenses.
New York must lead the way in ending America’s mass incarceration crisis.
The US puts more people awaiting trial behind bars than most countries have in their jails and prisons combined. As one of the nation’s progressive leaders, we must ensure that New York gets this right.
Join our call for genuine reform to abolish cash bail for all misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.
Photo: James Offer
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