From The PEW Charitable Trusts:
In the midst of a contentious divorce, Lavette Mayes got into a heated argument with her soon-to-be ex-mother-in-law. A couple of weeks later, Chicago Police arrested her for aggravated battery.
Up until that point, her only interaction with the legal system had been reporting for jury duty. Her new business operating a school van service was thriving. She was renting a nice house, a place she and her two children could call home. Then, in 2015, a judge slapped her with a $250,000 bail — an amount that Mayes could not afford.
After she had spent 14 months in the Cook County Jail, the Chicago Community Bond Fund, a volunteer organization, helped Mayes make bail after a judge reduced the amount. By that point, though, her business had collapsed, she’d lost her home, and her kids were traumatized. “I lost everything,” Mayes, 46, said.
Increasingly, state policymakers are looking at defendants like Mayes and reexamining the purpose of bail. Six in 10 adults in U.S. jails have not been convicted of a crime. They are locked up awaiting trial, mostly because they’re too poor to post bail. They are legally presumed innocent, but many spend months and even years awaiting trial. Often, they feel pressure to take a plea deal rather than spend more time in jail.
And policymakers are proposing changes. In Illinois, lawmakers last month introduced proposals that could eliminate bail for first-time, nonviolent offenders or abolish cash bail. In Maryland, the Supreme Court last month chose to change the state’s cash bail system significantly. In January, New Jersey began a new system of pretrial detention, in which judges can only set bail as a last resort. Lawmakers in California, Connecticut, Maryland and New York also have legislation pending that would remake their states’ cash bail systems.
A federal appeals court heard arguments in a class-action suit that challenges the constitutionality of the bail system. It involves an indigent Georgia man who was arrested for walking on the road while drunk; his bail was set at $160.
Behind many of the proposals is a growing recognition that cash bail is inequitable and isn’t effective in assuring the people who are accused actually go to court to answer the charges, said Eric Sterling, executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for changes in the criminal justice system.
“A system where you are presumptively jailed unless you can buy your freedom is a form of pretrial punishment,” Sterling said.
Bail is set to serve two purposes: to guarantee that defendants show up in court and to protect public safety by detaining those deemed potentially dangerous.
Critics say the system penalizes the poor and contributes to mass incarceration because it jails presumably innocent people simply because they can’t afford to post bail and reinforces a cycle of poverty. It also increases recidivism rates, critics say, because “low risk” defendants who have served time in jail are more likely to commit crimes upon release. A 2016 Columbia University report found that defendants who’ve been charged bail have a 12 percent higher chance of being convicted and are 6 to 9 percent more likely to be charged with another crime.
But proponents of cash bail say the money or property involved in posting bail, often put up by family members, serves as a deterrent to skipping out of court appearances or fleeing the state or country. Without money on the line, they argue, there’s little incentive to stay and go to court.
“We’d love to know how you bring all these people back in when they don’t appear in court on these no cash bonds,” said Beth Chapman, president of the Professional Bail Agents of the United States, a trade association.
Read the full article here.