There has been increased scrutiny on the court system’s use of bail. American Barristers Association recently spoke out against the use of cash bail for people who cannot afford it, pointing out that 450,000 individuals currently sit in jail as they await trial, many because they can’t afford bail.
According to the organization, this includes one-third of the incarcerated population and costs taxpayers $14 billion per year to house them. The ACLU and other critics say this has turned the American penal system into a debtors’ prison.
The alternatives to cash
Instead of paying bail, the association supports these actions:
- Releasing defendants on their own recognizance
- Using an unsecured bond
- Forbidding judges from imposing financial condition for release
Eliminate strict focus on the charge as premise for bail
The ABA also pointed out that it would like to see different protocols for bail and release instead of simply considering the charges. In their view, courts could use individualized and evidence-based assessment criteria that is not discriminatory of race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status or religion.
Avoiding further damage to detainees
The idea behind these bail reforms is obviously avoid unnecessary pretrial confinement. These reasons for this go beyond cost — research shows that low- and moderate-risk detainees are more likely commit a crime in the future if they spend more than 24 hours in lockup.
Moreover, there is also the trauma of the experience, where detainees can be sexually victimized, as well as the stigma. There is also higher incidence of suicide for detainees who endure pretrial detention. This is to say nothing of the impact it can have upon families if they are away from loved ones and not providing financial support.
Equal treatment under the law
Those facing charges deserve equal treatment under the law, regardless of their financial circumstances. Real systemic change comes from legislation on bail reform; however, an attorney with criminal law experience understands the challenges of the legal system and may be able help in court and during pretrial hearings.