The Bail Project on Peace & Justice, Wednesday Dec. 23 at 9am
Written by Tom Walker on December 20, 2020
Their website tells us this:
On any given day, nearly half a million people languish in jail cells across America, waiting for their criminal cases to move forward and severed from their lives and communities even though they have not been convicted of a crime.1 People in pretrial detention now make up more than two-thirds of America’s jail population.2 They are presumed innocent under the law, yet they will suffer the harms of incarceration unless they have enough money to pay bail and buy their freedom. This two-tier system criminalizes poverty and is a structural linchpin of mass incarceration3 and racial inequality.4 It affects entire communities, devastates families for generations, and guts the presumption of innocence.
The human toll of this crisis is catastrophic, levied almost exclusively on the poor, and disproportionately on communities of color. People who are jailed pretrial often wait months, and sometimes years, for their cases to resolve. In the meantime, they can lose their jobs, homes, children, and critical community ties.5 Inside jail, people risk sexual violence,6 the deterioration of their mental and physical health,7 and the infliction of lasting trauma.8 They feel enormous pressure to accept an unjust or wrongful conviction just to go home.9And, as with all other areas of the criminal legal system, people of color bear a far heavier burden due to an enduring legacy of racism and economic disenfranchisement.10
Moreover, the financial costs that this system generates are staggering. American taxpayers pay $14 billion each year to incarcerate people pretrial.11 Meanwhile, the $2 billion bail industry, with its well-documented predatory and exploitative practices, extracts money from precisely those communities that have the fewest resources.12 Factoring in the impact of pretrial detention on families, communities, and social services, the true economic cost of this crisis has been estimated to approach $140 billion annually.13
Most Americans recognize that our current pretrial system must change. But while there is growing consensus that we need reform, a shared vision for what this looks like is less clear. Without a focus on the larger systemic problems of which bail is a symptom—structural racism and mass incarceration—reform runs the risk of re-creating the harms and disparities of the current system even after ending cash bail.
To effect true change, two priorities must inform the transition to a fair justice system: first, eliminating pretrial detention except where absolutely necessary to prevent imminent violence or willful flight; and second, combatting the racial bias that pervades every corner of the American legal system and reinforces inequality. Overall success in this effort should be measured by the level of decarceration and reduction of disparities in how criminal justice is applied, not just the abolition of cash bail.
This document outlines a roadmap to a more just, equitable, and humane pretrial system.
It is grounded in our belief in the dignity of all people and the absolute need for oversight of and checks on the government’s power to take away a person’s liberty. It is informed by The Bail Project’s experience going into jails across the country and meeting thousands of people trapped by bail. By providing free bail assistance in over a dozen jurisdictions, and modeling, in real time, a community-based infrastructure for pretrial support, we have demonstrated our model’s efficacy in supporting high rates of return. Our clients’ stories shape this perspective, and many graciously shared their experience in the pages that follow.
If history has shown us anything it is that we cannot arrest and incarcerate our way out of systemic social problems. The Bail Project is committed to a future where no human being is ever forced to deteriorate in a jail cell, a future where a more sensible and equitable approach to social issues is possible. Pretrial reform is just one step in that direction; though it is an essential one, it must be accompanied by investments in alternatives to incarceration, community empowerment, police accountability, and new thinking on how we as a society respond to violence and other harm. The Bail Project offers the following framework as a starting point for grounding bail and pretrial reform in a broader vision of democracy, progress, and collective wellbeing.
Continue reading HERE.