Every day, nearly 750,000 people are detained in jails across the country because of an inability to purchase their freedom. The costs are tremendous for the government as well as the individuals, their families, and their communities. People who do not pose a public safety risk and are likely to return for their court date should not be incarcerated because they cannot afford to pay for release. Unfortunately, our current bail system has two tiers: one for people with money and one for people without.
Money bail schemes disproportionately harm low-income people. Evidence shows that pretrial detention due to inability to pay increases the likelihood of conviction, the likelihood of a jail sentence, and the length of the sentence imposed. Just a few days in jail can lead to people losing their jobs, their cars, their housing, and even custody of their children. It is a seriously disruptive – and often traumatic – experience.
Releasing arrestees on recognizance with court reminders and, when necessary, tailored conditions and supervision, costs significantly less than detaining everyone who cannot pay cash bail and largely avoids the critical disruption of lives that result from money-based systems.
The decision to restrict an individual’s liberty should never be governed by profit. We do not address considerations of public safety or deterrence when we allow some people to buy their way out of the criminal legal system while others remain trapped within it simply for not having money.