Reforming the Bail System

Solutions Journalism

University of Miami

Miami, FL, United States


 The bail system in the U.S. disproportionately affect the poor, specifically poor people of color, according to data:

*443,000 people are incarcerated before trial in the US, 90 percent of them because they cannot afford to post a monetary bail. 

*Nationally, 62 percent of people in jail have not been convicted: they are simply waiting for their trial. 

*In New York City, that percentage is closer to 75. Often, this is because they cannot afford to pay the bail.* When people can't post bail, they might plea guilty to avoid jail time, even if they are innocent. 

* Nationally, they (People of Color) are incarcerated pretrial at five times the rate of white people and three times the rate of Latino people. Black women and women of color are much more likely to be incarcerated than white women, making up two-thirds of all women in local jails.

The adverse effects of bail have led to a movement, bail reform, composed of policy makers, activists, and criminal justice experts, who want to reform the bail system in the U.S. However, some of these efforts have been deterred by the bail industry. In Harris County, Houston, a bipartisan bill, which would have allowed judges to release low risk offenders with a presumption of release for personal bond, was defeated. The bonds business is a billion dollar industry, and has lobbied against bail reform, not only in Harris county, but in other states as well. *Of the $14 billion in bonds that are issued across the country each year, some $2 billion is profit for bail bond companies themselves.*

However, prison reformists, lawyers, and activists have tackled this issue at various levels of government. In New York, the Bronx Defenders, set up the Freedom Fund, the fund pays for the bail of people with low misdemeanors, and who have roots in the community. Years later, New York City followed a similar model, inspired by the Bronx Defenders. The city created the Liberty Fund, which uses money from a private donor to pay for bail fees under $2,000 for people with misdemeanors. In Philadelphia, women from the community raised money for a Community Bail Fund, specifically used for black women who couldn't afford to pay bail. In Chicago, where *more than 4,000 people are incarcerated in Chicago's Cook County Jail because they cannot post monetary bail,* a judge ordered that Cook County could not set bails for *pretrial incarceration based only on inability to afford bond." Chicago isn't the only city to enact bail reform, states like New Jersey, Maryland, Arizona, and New Mexico are tackling bail reform through the courts, or through the law. 

The * denotes stats that were taken from the articles in this collection. 

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