Key Factor in Improving Overall Public Safety is Bail Reform
Published: Oct 10, 2018
BOSTON, Oct. 10, 2018 /PRNewswire/ --
The following is a statement by Michael Maloney, Independent Candidate for Suffolk County District Attorney:
At any given time, jails in the United States incarcerate approximately 700,000 people.
More than half of these individuals are misdemeanor level or lower (non-violent) offenders who simply cannot afford to post bail. This is problematic from both an economic and human rights perspective. The national cost to keep these non-violent people behind bars is somewhere around 38 million dollars per day. Bail in American courts perpetuates a broken mechanism that preys on the poor and keeps people needlessly trapped in a judicial system that would be better utilized on serious crime.
Add to this the opioid epidemic many communities now battle and bail reform becomes crucial.
Before we talk about bail reform, lets define the origins of bail and its fundamental purpose. Bail is essentially referred to as the financial conditions imposed on a person after being arrested and awaiting trial. The fundamental purpose of bail is to tie a defendant to a specific jurisdiction. Until the 20th century bail was often set in an unsecured form. Bail was imposed, and the defendant would be released without requiring any deposit of money unless the person did not appear in court. Today the most frequent form of bail imposed is secured. Secured bail requires money deposited before a person is released, meaning individuals can be incarcerated indefinitely without a conviction while awaiting trial. This shift has led to the money bail industry as we know it today where many are too poor to pay.
With a wave of reform sweeping the nation, bail reform is evolving in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts own Gov. Charlie Baker, with bi-partisan support, signed a landmark criminal justice overhaul bill along with a number of important reforms in April of this year. This includes taking into account someone's ability to pay in regards to bail, fines and fees.
In late August California became the first state to completely abolish cash bail, a move that supporters believe will create a more unbiased criminal justice system that is less dependent on a person's financial situation.
The motivating factor of the California law is that a suspect will now be evaluated on the basis of individual risk to public safety and their likelihood of not appearing in court, rather than on the ability to post bail. Those evaluations would then determine if the suspect would be held while awaiting trial or released.
Without reform in the cash bail system many non-violent misdemeanor defendants are forced to plead guilty without trial due to a lack of funds for secured bail, whereas more affluent defendants can fight their charge while at liberty. This in turn leaves many of those unable to post bail with a criminal record, propelling them further into the criminal justice system without opportunity for reform. Many of these individuals suffer from addiction and mental illness where treatment and reform would benefit not only the individual, but the community as a whole.
The Burns Institute for justice fairness and equity published an article in 2016 on the evolution of bail through history. In the essay Kelly Allen states, "The American Bar Association (ABA) and thought leaders in the field have condemned the use of money bail as it is not shown to improve public safety or prevent failures to appear. It has been shown to contribute to the increasing proportion of jail inmates who are not convicted of any crime."
This is why I won't ask for bail on non-violent drug cases.
The problem with cash bail is that it isn't an effective or objective system which can decipher who should and who shouldn't be detained while awaiting trial. Money does not guarantee people won't engage in any new criminal activity and it does not guarantee people will actually return for court.
The facts are clear; bail reform is not only an issue of human rights but one of unjust financial burden on individuals and our criminal justice system. Currently we are seeing a disproportionate number of poor minorities locked up for non-violent misdemeanors while awaiting trial. This has in turn lead to a burden on our legal system and a backlog of trials that can leave individuals in jail for months, sometimes even years without a conviction. With less ability to pay, poor individuals are targeted by the money bail industry that does not take into account their likelihood to show up for trial, or their threat to society while awaiting trial. It's simply a "pay to play" system.
If courts are using bail as a means to incarcerate impoverished people or those caught up in the addiction cycle, they're spending money the wrong way. Communities cannot simply incarcerate their way out of the current opioid epidemic. By better understanding the devastating impact the money bail mechanism has had on our criminal justice system it becomes possible to enact revolutionary changes that advance community safety and the values of equity, fairness and due process for all.
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SOURCE Michael Maloney for Suffolk County District Attorney