7 Reasons to End Money Bail

A growing number of progressive leaders — from Senator Kamala Harris to the ACLU and California judges – are pushing to end money bail. In the United States, it’s legal to incarcerate people who haven’t been convicted of crimes if a judge determines they should be required to pay bail. And that can cost anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars — or more, in extreme cases. If they can’t afford bail, and their family members and friends are unable to help out, they may be stuck until their day in court.

Critics argue that this practice contributes to the injustice stratifying American society, and they’re hoping others will join them in working to find alternatives to money bail.

On the federal level, some legislators are pushing to dedicate funds to states willing to reform their bail systems, serving as an enticement. These funds could be used to pay for pretrial assessments and other services that help jurisdictions make informed decisions about how to handle individuals accused of crimes. However, the federal government cannot directly dictate what states, counties and municipalities do: For that, individual communities need to take up the fight.

Not sure why it matters? Here are seven reasons to end money bail in America.

1. It keeps people without convictions in jail

Around 70 percent of the nearly 650,000 people in American jails being held pretrial are there because they can’t afford bail. From a legal perspective, these people are innocent — yet they may sit in prison for days, weeks or even months, depending on their cases and the court schedule. Sometimes, people get out on bail only to have their cases dismissed! Plus, research shows that people held in pretrial detention are more likely to be convicted, in part because they seek plea deals and other options to resolve their cases quickly.

2. It’s expensive

Keeping people in jail is quite costly. For every day in jail, correctional facilities need to provide a variety of services. It costs approximately $14 billion annually to provide care and services for people held in pretrial detention, and that’s funded by your tax dollars.

3. It contributes to overcrowding

Across the U.S., jails are struggling with extreme overcrowding; in California, the problem became so severe that the state was forced to release inmates deemed low-risk to the community to bring numbers down. Some inmates sleep in areas never designed to house people — occasionally on the floor. The crowding makes it hard to provide services like health care and access to exercise, and it can contribute to gruesome jail conditions.

4. It is highly racialized

It’s impossible to talk about the justice system in the United States without discussing race, because the two are heavily intertwined. People of color are more likely to have adverse interactions with law enforcement, and the prison system as a whole is heavily stacked with black men, along with other people of color. In addition to being more likely to find themselves in jail due to racist policies and practices, they’re less likely to be able to afford bail due to economic inequalities — and those get worse when a household’s primary breadwinner is trapped in jail.

5. It’s a heavy burden on families

Families spend an average of $13,000 on fines, fees and bail. That’s a lot of money. When someone has a brush with the justice system, around a third of families end up in debt, with their homes and other assets yoked to a bail bondsperson. Some firms engage in predatory lending practices that target low-income people and those with limited financial literacy. Some argue that money bail punishes the poor, considering that some of these fines are nonrefundable, and using a bail bondsperson requires a 10 percent deposit that families never get back.

6. Least restrictive release balances the scales

Advocates for bail reform argue for “least restrictive” means; in many cases, that means releasing low-risk people to go home while they await trial. If there are concerns about community safety, other options — such as detention — can be explored. The federal government uses this approach, with pre-trial services to assess accused people and determine the level of risk they pose.

Under the current system, wealthy people can buy their way out of jail — regardless of the risk they pose to the community, in most cases – while people with fewer means are trapped inside. Bail doesn’t necessarily create enough of an incentive to return to court, and it certainly doesn’t dissuade people from committing additional crimes. Ending money bail could in fact improve public safety.

7. It’s been problematic since the 1960s

The origins of the fight against money bail can be traced to the 1960s, when Attorney General Robert Kennedy argued passionately for reforms to the system, claiming that it was unjust to hold people indefinitely when they had done nothing wrong in the eyes of the law. The United States is one of the few nations to use money bail in the contemporary era.

Take action!

Join your fellow Care2 activists in calling on Congress to push for an end to money bail.

Photo credit: Daniel Oines

54 comments

Amanda M
Amanda M2 months ago

Bill E. and Brian F. I would give you a truckload of Green Stars for your comments if I could! This bail system burns me up and is part of the basis for my Rule #31: "Systems" only work for the wealthy and well-connected! And our family has experience to back that up! (Long story I'm not ready to tell yet).

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Mike R
Mike R3 months ago

Thanks

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Mike R
Mike R3 months ago

Thanks

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Jaime J
Jaime J3 months ago

Thank you!!

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DAVID fleming
DAVID fleming3 months ago

Thanks

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Janet B
Janet B3 months ago

Thanks

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Ruth S
Ruth S3 months ago

Thanks.

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Renee M
Renee M3 months ago

Bail reform is long past due!

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Caitlin B
Past Member 3 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Carole R
Carole R3 months ago

Thanks.

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