Joseph Warren sees no sunlight in a San Francisco jail and never gets fresh air. Locked up for more than a month, he said he has become suicidal, rarely eats the jail food and tries to sleep as much as possible when he’s not crying in his small cell. As a gay man, he is afraid he will be assaulted in the shower, The Guardian reports. Warren, 60, is awaiting trial on welfare fraud charges. Charged with stealing $5,000 from the government, which he denies, his bail was set by a judge at $75,000, which he can’t afford. His only options are to plead guilty or stay incarcerated.
In the same region, Tiffany Li, a wealthy real estate heir who is accused of conspiring to murder the father of her children, is able to remain under house arrest after posting $4 million in cash and pledging $62 million in property for her bail. She has a multimillion-dollar mansion 10 miles south of Warren’s jail. The parallel cases moving through the San Francisco area’s courts have shone a harsh light on a system that critics say is fundamentally flawed and unconstitutional. Wealth can buy freedom even for those accused of the most serious offenses while others facing minor charges are jailed indefinitely simply for being poor. Legislators and activists in California are pushing to abolish key elements of the state’s bail system so that people accused of crimes would no longer be jailed simply because they are unable to pay the fees.