San Francisco, California

The Money-Bail System is Racist

Clint Smith writes about the overwhelming tragedy that is the money-bail system here in America, where defendants are required to pay money in order to get out of jail before their trial takes place. These are innocent people treated as if they’re guilty simply because they’re poor.

Smith begins his piece with the bail of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 and what’s changed since:

[...] the number of people sitting in jail has skyrocketed. Of the approximately 630,000 people held in more than 3,000 local jails across the United States, 70 percent are awaiting trial and therefore are legally innocent, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. The Vera Institute of Justice reports that black Americans are jailed at nearly four times the rate of white Americans.

Being in jail and unable to post bond can create instability in somebody’s life. Research suggests that spending as few as two days in jail can damage a person’s physical and economic well-being and increase the likelihood of cycling back into the criminal-justice system.

When the BLM marches started earlier this summer, so many people started sharing links to community bail funds. But what are they and how do they work? Clint continues:

Community bail funds work by pooling donations to spring from jail people who cannot afford to pay their way out. Once a fund has posted bail, an individual is free to go home, with the expectation that he will stay out of trouble and appear in court on a scheduled date. After the defendant shows up and the case is resolved, the bail money is returned to the community fund, to be used for another defendant.

Organizations like the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund are a truly wonderful thing, but they fall short of the end goal here: the complete dismantling of this racist money-bail system.

So how do we go about getting rid of it? Well, voting for Biden. His public policy on criminal justice reform makes it clear that they despise it:

Cash bail is the modern-day debtors’ prison. The cash bail system incarcerates people who are presumed innocent. And, it disproportionately harms low-income individuals. Biden will lead a national effort to end cash bail and reform our pretrial system by putting in place, instead, a system that is fair and does not inject further discrimination or bias into the process.

If we want to break up this vast racist infrastructure, then voting for Biden is the very first step.