Or, “ending extortion by law enforcement,” if you want a less whitewashed description. A stunning proportion of America’s incarcerated population has yet to even go to trial because of the practice of cash bail, penalizing poor people doubly for being unable to post their own bounty. Such incarceration disrupts their employment, which feeds back into their original problem of not being able to afford bail. The cruelty inherent in the logic of this system is a feature rather than a bug for those with authoritarian (and white supremacist) inclinations, but there is plenty of work to end the practice.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, imprisoning 2.24 million out of the world’s total of 10.2 million incarcerated people as of 2013, according to the International Center for Prison Studies. The ICPS also reports that, in 2013, 480,000 people were held in U.S. jails before even being tried for their charges. The system of cash bail targets poor people who can’t afford their bail, and several major insurance companies make billions in profits from the cash bail system.
Critics of the cash bail system point to research demonstrating that cash bail discriminates against the poor, and especially poor people of color. According to a 2015 report from the Vera Institute of Justice, two in five people held in America’s jails are behind bars because they cannot afford their bail. The report also notes that 75 percent of people in jail are accused of non-violent crimes, such as shoplifting or minor traffic offenses. There’s also evidence of profound racial bias within the cash bail system. The Vera Institute reports that black Americans are jailed at almost four times the rate of their white counterparts.
While the statistics for cash bail are staggering, the cruelest injustices of this system become clear in the context of real people’s lives.
The article is relevant for any jurisdiction that still engages in the practice, even if the United States is its specific context. Read more here.