The US is the only first-world country that commercializes bail. The for-profit industry rakes in more than $2 billion annually in revenue. Most criminal defendants can’t pay the full bail amount and must either stay in jail or pay a 10 percent fee to secure a bond, which they won’t recoup even if found not guilty.
In the premiere episode of our series Justice, VICE examines the winners and losers of for-profit criminal justice and explores the emerging alternatives. View the video.
Pretrial Justice Reform Task Force
The pretrial incarceration rate in Maine has increased steadily over the last five years, with some county jails experiencing pretrial populations of over 80% of the total inmate population, according to the state’s Pretrial Justice Reform Task Force. The Task Force’s new report includes 26 recommendations for reform, including statute changes, additional personnel trainings, and changes in policies and procedure.
Pre-Trial Project: 3-Days Count
Our justice system currently operates like a complex maze, with too many entry points and too few exits. As a result, many people enter jail—and stay in pretrial detention—unnecessarily, which increases their chances of getting stuck in the maze. In fact, each year nearly 12 million people are booked into U.S. jails, mostly for nonviolent misdemeanors, and more than 60 percent of jail inmates are unconvicted—largely because they are too poor to post even small money bond amounts.
Even three days in jail can be too much, leaving low-risk defendants less likely to appear in court and more likely to commit new crimes—because of the stress incarceration places on fundamentals like jobs, housing and family connections.
Meanwhile, half of the highest-risk defendants go free by posting cash bail under laws that currently hinder judges’ ability to detain based on risk.
Learn more at: http://projects.pretrial.org/3DaysCount/
Ending the American Money Bail System
Every day, there are about 500,000 human beings in American jails solely because they are too poor to make a monetary payment for their release. Across the country, people accused of even minor crimes are kept in a cage prior to their trial — despite our legal system’s guarantee that every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt — unless the person can pay an arbitrarily set amount of money to secure her or his release. The result is pretrial detention based on wealth-status, not any meaningful assessment of flight risk or danger to the community.
Bail in America: Unsafe, Unfair, Ineffective
The American system of bail is fundamentally incapable of doing the job we expect from it. Those with money—regardless of where they got the money or their danger to the community or victims—can purchase their freedom while poor defendants remain in jail pending trial, which can sometimes last years.
See the information sheet on Bail in America
Race & Bail in America
At every stage in the criminal justice system people of color fare worse than their White counterparts—the pretrial stage is no exception.
Money bail is especially unfair to people of color, not to mention
defendants, victims,and the general public.
See the information sheet on Race & Bail in America
Senator Chris Shank joins Scott Shellenberger in favor of cash bail bonds.
“The use of secured financial bond whether in the form of cash, property or surety bond serves an important function in Maryland’s Criminal Justice System. When family members, loved ones or friends have put financial resources toward effecting a defendant’s release pretrial, it is an incentive for the defendant to appear in court. With financial resources on the line many defendants will not fail to appear for fear of a financial loss. The defendant’s personal investment in the current system of pretrial release has a useful place within the pretrial system.”
Money bail is the civil rights issue of the 21st Century. Bail affects minorities in a disparate fashion. Study after study has shown that individuals who are similarly situated will receive differing bail amounts based upon their racial identity. You don’t need to be a scholar to see this play out in the courtrooms of Baltimore. Our non-minority clients have a clear advantage in bail determinations. It is just yet another reason to eliminate the use of money bail. We cannot escape the subtleties of unconscious racial bias caused by leaving too much discretion in the hands of bail officials who have the power to set bail amounts based upon race. Money bail doesn’t support stability and safety in the criminal justice system; it tears away at the foundation of stable and healthy communities.
In Baltimore City we face the highest bail amounts on average in Maryland, yet our clients are frequently the poorest of the poor. Pretrial detention is every bit a punishment as is a sentence imposed after a conviction. My clients are locked up from 30 days to upwards of a year waiting for trial. They lose their homes, jobs, children, enrollment in education. All of the stabilizing factors that could and should be considered in determining whether they are a flight risk or a danger to society are stripped away simply because they cannot pay a bail which is sometimes as little as $100. Often we have clients who sit in jail on low level misdemeanor charges “serving” a 30-day pretrial detention sentence only to have the case dismissed on the trial date. In other cases my clients in pretrial detention will plead guilty, be sentenced to time served and then released. If the government does not believe my client should receive a sentence of incarceration upon conviction why is it appropriate to jail them beforehand? How can it ever be appropriate to jail them while they presumed innocent?