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Court and bail reform on Peace & Justice, Weds. Feb. 12 at 9am.

Written by on Tuesday, February 11, 2020

This Wednesday, February 12th at 9am, Bob and I will have as a guest in the studio the Honorable Erika Quartermaine, County Court Judge of the 12th. Judicial Circuit Court.

An impressive array of “specialty courts” — Mental Health Court, Comprehensive Treatment Court, Drug Court, DUI Court, Veterans Court and TYLA Court (for victims of sexual trafficking) — have been set up to offer ill or traumatized offenders a program of supportive services rather than jail time. The Comprehensive Treatment Court — created by Judge Quartermaine and based on a model in Miami-Dade, has had a high success rate in its first two years of diverting repeat offenders.

We’ll also talk about “money bail.

Money bail is the payment required for a person to be released from jail as they await court hearings. The use of money bail is one of the most troubling features of our deeply unequal justice system.

From Vox.com: Bail amounts vary widely, with a nationwide median of around $10,000 for felonies (though much higher for serious charges) and less for misdemeanors (in some places such as New York City, typically under $2,000, though much higher in some jurisdictions). But even the lower amounts are more than most people can pay, and many spend time in jail for lack of as little as $500 or even $250.

Our reliance on bail has essentially created a two-tiered justice system in the US. Many of the nearly half a million unconvicted people confined in jails on any given day are there because they can’t afford to pay bail. As people await court hearings behind bars, sometimes for months or even years, they suffer from inadequate medical care and even dangerous conditions, and many lose their jobs and housing. They also have a higher chance of being convicted than if they hadn’t been assigned bail, as they take plea bargains just to get out of jail, whether or not they actually committed a crime.

They and their families are also targets for the $2 billion-per-year for-profit bond industry, which routinely exploits people — disproportionately people of color — in desperate situations.

There’s a rising movement to fight the money bail system. Advocates and legislators across the country are pushing to get rid of money bail in their states and in local jurisdictions. They argue that the system imposes an enormous and unfair burden on people and their families, especially low-income people of color. Udi Ofer, the director of the Campaign for Smart Justice at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), says the money bail system is “one of the most corrupt and broken parts of our justice system.”

Getting rid of money bail — and releasing many more people pretrial — is a high-impact policy shift that can dramatically improve millions of lives.