The injustice of the bail system

The purpose of bail is to ensure that people charged with crimes show up in court.  Disproportionately, people of color and low income people are in jail awaiting trials because they can’t afford bail.  Recently, a young man reports on the CBS Sunday Morning show that he was in jail for months for riding his bicycle on the sidewalk. He was unable to post bail and lost his job.  It’s a matter of income, pure and simple. We know the folks who are charged with crimes, arrested, and are able to post bonds. Let’s think of the recent array of people charged with or serving time for crimes related to their connections to the Trump administration.

The Eighth Amendment specifically states:  Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.  Yet, the American system of “justice” in fact imposes excessive bail, the result of which forces many to plead guilty just to get back to work, their families, their freedom.  Collateral consequences of a guilty plea are rarely explained but include building a “criminal history,” job discrimination and we still have the “three strikes” law where a third felony can result in sentences up to life.

Let’s talk a minute about the profits made by incarcerating individuals pretrial. First, of course, is the bailbond industry, a $2 billion – yes BILLION – a year industry.  Then, there are the private jails and prisons, profit-making entities, CoreCivic and GEO.  Both spend millions on lobbying politicians to continue the growth and now are housing immigrants crossing the border.  Recent data shows their profits are also billions annually.

Profits are made due to charges by saving on health care, including mental health (needed by more than a million), nutrition (think beans, plastic-wrapped sugar filled “foods,” low grade meats and no fresh fruits or vegetables), reading materials (whereas prison libraries dramatically increased in state prisons beginning in the 70s) and a lot more people in solitary.

Is it fair – is it sane – that more than half the folks in jail today are pre-trial? Is it fair – is it sane – to keep people out of their communities, away from jobs and family – due to high bails – when research shows more than 95% show up to their court dates regarding of the bail situation. Some states such as California are pretty much doing away with this discriminatory system.   I won’t rant anymore. Here are some resources if you want some more information:

The Bail Project

Equal Justice Under The Law