General Davis, parent of incarcerated children
Sonya Cannon, parent of incarcerated child
LaDonya Smith, parent of incarcerated child
Doris Cox, parent of incarcerated child
Ali Muhammad, concerned citizen
Howie Hawkins, concerned citizen
Abolition of Cash Bail: Equitable Implementation Is as Important as Adopting the Policy
January 26, 2021
Half a million people are in jail in the US awaiting trial because they could not make bail. Poor defendants can’t make bail and more affluent defendants can. It is a two-tier system that criminalizes poverty and undergirds mass incarceration and racial inequality. People who are jailed pretrial because they can’t make bail often wait months and sometimes years before their cases are resolved. In the meantime, they lose jobs, homes, and children. Inside jail, they often suffer violence, sexual assault, mental and physical health problems, and lasting trauma.
The abolition of cash bail has become a demand of advocates for pretrial justice. It would eliminate pretrial detention except where necessary to prevent imminent violence or flight from justice. Instead of bail, to ensure public safety and the defendant’s appearance in court, judges would decide if defendants should be released from custody while awaiting trial, held in jail until trial, or be subject to other requirements such as house arrest and electronic monitoring.
Bail abolition legislation has been proposed in many states, but only fully obtained in New Jersey since 2017 and Alaska since 2018. California adopted a bail abolition bill but it was vetoed by referendum in 2020.
New York adopted a bill to abolish bail in most circumstances in early 2020, but it was quickly weakened by subsequent legislation a few months later. In New York, bail cannot be imposed for many nonviolent offenses. For violent and other serious offenses where bail can be imposed, the ability of the accused to pay is not supposed to be barrier to making bail. Bail is supposed to ensure the accused shows up for court hearings. But it is often being imposed beyond the ability of defendants to pay, making it a form of pretrial detention rather than an incentive to show up for court hearings.
In Syracuse, New York, bail is being imposed inequitably between affluent, mostly white, defendants and lower income, mostly Black Latino, and Indigenous, defendants. I participated in a news conference on January 26, 2020 to raise this issue along with parents of Black children who are in pretrial detention because their families could not post bail. Above is the video of our news conference.
We must continue to fight not only police brutality and racism on the streets, but also the brutality and racism in the courts and jails of the criminal justice system. Bail abolition is a reform worth fighting for to reduce mass incarceration and move us closer to equal justice under law.