This is just a quick post for those interested in knowing why our current cash bail system in the U.S. is problematic and, possibly, a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. The links each have many additional references that should provide ample research opportunities, if one is so inclined.
As of year-end 2014, there were over 2 million people in prison or jail and another 4+million under some sort of supervision by the criminal justice system (parole, probation, drug court) according to the Bureau of Prisons. While there are many people of all ages and skin colors incarcerated, it is undeniable that a disproportionate number of those incarcerated are African-American or Hispanic. You can put all the lipstick on this pig that you want if that makes you feel better, but it won’t change the facts. As for me, I agree with the scholars who see this mass incarceration as racism and slavery and the poor white people caught up in it as mere collateral damage. After all, poor people of any color are a nuisance to the wealthy and powerful.
The Criminal Justice system is set up in most communities to favor those who have money. The bail system is exactly what it looks like – a way to keep people who have little or no money locked up. Most middle class and wealthy folks never think about this issue because they believe it doesn’t apply to them, that they will never do anything wrong that will land them in jail with a high bail amount keeping them there. The truth is that false identifications are made all the time and law enforcement often encourages such mistakes by using procedures that intimidate witnesses or lead them to falsely identify suspects. Studies have shown that we are more likely to misidentify people of other races. There is a direct correlation between bail and the 95+ percent of cases that are disposed of by pleas instead of jury trials, as well as the high number of false guilty pleas. Even those who are arrested and are eventually released find that their lives are ruined because for a number of weeks or months, while sitting in jail for not having bail money, they lost their job, their reputation, and often have lost their place to live and all of their possessions. Bail ruins innocent lives and denies due process to many.
Read more here:
Feds Say it’s Unfair to Hold Poor Defendants if They Can’t Afford Bail
U.S. Justice Department via Associated Press and Fortune Magazine
How Money Bail Works and Why Critics Call It Unfair
George Lavender for KQED
The Problem with Bail and One Simple Way to Fix It
David Feige for Slate.com
To search for your state’s specific bail rules, you can use your favorite search engine to search for “bail statutes [state name]” for the text of the law, or “[state name] courts bail” which should yield links to court orders regarding bail in District and Superior Courts in your state.
I also strongly recommend viewing the documentary film The 13th, which is available on Netflix, after the kids are in bed. I find it suitable for teens 14+, but that’s at each parent’s discretion, of course. A compelling case is made that the current mass incarceration is an extension of slavery and that the War on Drugs is the new Jim Crow. Whether you agree or disagree or are simply unsure, this film deserves your consideration.