On Oct 1, the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights group began a month-long “mass bailout” project in New York aimed at highlighting the inequalities of a system that forces the poor to remain behind bars before trial simply because they cannot afford money bail. Local DAs fumed, but a former NYC probation commissioner explains why he decided to participate.
Under a new law that went into effect this month, New Hampshire judges can no longer keep individuals accused of low-level offenses behind bars just because they can’t afford to pay cash bail. But reformers who welcome the “culture shift” also worry about a companion rule allowing those considered public safety threats to be held in “preventive” custody.
California will become the first state to end money bail under a new law that will take effect in October, 2019. Under the measure, courts will use algorithms to decide who needs to be kept in custody ahead of trial—but critics, including the ACLU, say the new system may perpetuate discrimination.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has introduced legislation that would end money bail on the federal level and incentivize states to do the same. Federal bail reform seems likely to stall; meanwhile, Robin Steinberg of the Bronx Defenders has set up a national bail project to help poor clients win pretrial release.
Michael N. Herring, the Virginia city’s top prosecutor, said his staffers will now recommend release without bail for most defendants. He said the cash bail system “strikes me as unfair” and does not ensure that accused criminals will appear in court.
“They’re making decisions about someone’s freedom in secret,” says Elizabeth Rossi of Civil Rights Corps, one of several groups challenging Dallas County’s hearings that don’t allow family members or others to witness court proceedings on pretrial release.
As commercial bail has become a $2 billion industry, bail bondsman are the payday lenders of criminal justice, offering quick relief to desperate customers at high prices, the New York Times reports. Bondsmen keep a close eye on their clients, but who keeps a close eye on the bondsmen?
Progressive prosecutors and scientific pretrial release systems are reducing jail populations, say Jeremy Travis of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. New policies by newly elected Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner, including decriminalizing marijuana possession, were cited as examples.
In its first year, New Jersey’s historic bail overhaul slashed the number of people charged with minor crimes locked up until trial because they couldn’t post bail by 20 percent. Yet the system is “simply not sustainable” because it relies on court fees rather than the state budget, a report from the New Jersey judiciary says.