Why America's Bail System is Racist, Makes Us Less Safe and Must End
Tempting as it is to curl up in fetal position and wait it out, the newly dawning era of Donald Trump is exactly the wrong time to give up on reforming the criminal justice system. If you think it is hard to be poor and non-white now, you ain't seen nothing yet.
And if you think there's nothing you can do, that same sentiment applies. The newly launched movement to end money bail in California is a case in point. We have a strong coalition that has come together to form the campaign called The Bail Trap: American Ransom.
The campaign kicked off today in Sacramento. We are going to win, and it is going to make a difference in millions of people's lives - even in the next four years. While we are at it, we can make a dent in mass incarceration, even in the Trump era. Our cities and states are the proving grounds for what works. Donald Trump cannot stop all our work in its tracks.â€¨ â€¨In fact, some of what he tapped into might even help us get it done - the simmering anger out there about deep, systemic injustices.â€¨ â€¨After all, if you were to take Donald Trump's disgust with rigged systems at face value, you might be forgiven for supposing he would be all in on ending money bail - which is as rigged as it gets - a scheme that punishes the poor for being poor and rewards the rich for their very richness.
â€¨Here's a short film that explains how bail profiteering works.
Some of the biggest surprises include:
• If you bail out using a bail bondsman you don't get the money back - even if you're found innocent or the charges are dropped altogether. If, on the other hand, you can afford to pay the entire money bail up front without a bondsman, you do get it all back after the case is decided one way or the other - including if you are guilty.
• Calling people to remind them about an upcoming court date is as effective in getting them to show up as releasing them on money bail. â€¨ â€¨As the film shows, there are a lot of myths out there but money bail, but the real story is worse than most of us know.
Money bail is racist. If you are black you are far more likely to be incarcerated while awaiting trial than a white defendant, according to the National Academy of Sciences.
Money bail is expensive for taxpayers.â€¨ â€¨In New York it costs approximately $460 per inmate, per day, to keep someone in jail. Even if the national average were as low as $50 per day, the annual cost of pretrial detention would reach $8 billion, Mother Jones magazine calculated.â€¨ â€¨
Money bail actually makes us less safe, â€¨ â€¨The Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that 71 percent of inmates had jobs when they were arrested. There is no way to calculate how many of those jobs will be lost if an inmate can't make it to work because they can't afford to bail out, or how many inmates will lose their housing as a result of the downward spiral. It makes sense though that these aftershocks of the money bail system leave people in dire straits and increase the temptation to find other ways to earn money.
We do know that that people become more likely to reoffend the longer they are detained pretrial: With just two to three days of detention, low-risk defendants are almost 40 percent more likely to commit new crimes before trial than equivalent defendants held less than 24 hours. Low-risk defendants held 8 to 14 days are 51 percent more likely to recidivate within two years than equivalent defendants held one day or less.â€¨ â€¨
For Donald Trump the whole rigged systems thing was all just a talking point. But it was one that touched a nerve. Our criminal justice system is in fact rigged against the majority of those who are swept up in it. While our putative president-elect spends his days fulminating in 140 characters, we will use the anger he tapped in to to change the system in California. You can do the same wherever you are. We absolutely cannot waste the next four years.