How the cash bond denies people of color the right to vote and makes our criminal justice system inherently unfair

Have you ever taken a moment to think about the cash bond system in the United States? If you’re like me, maybe you just accepted it as it is and never thought about it. But the truth is, the cash bond system is unfair, unfair, and disproportionately harms communities of color and poor communities. Every day, 450,000 people wait to be tried in prison, simply because they could not afford to pay their bail. How is that when our criminal justice system is supposed to be fair?

I interviewed lawyer Katherine Hubbard of the Civil rights body a few weeks ago on this specific problem. She explained the reasons why the cash deposit is unfair, what the alternatives are and how we can work to change the system.

First, why is the cash bond more damaging to communities of color?

Communities of color are over-policed

For starters, communities of color are actually over-policed. If you grew up in a predominantly white area or in an affluent area, you may not have interacted with the police much. Or maybe, if you did, have a pretty positive opinion of the police. Unfortunately, for people of color, this is usually not the case. When a community is too closely watched, it means that more people are going to be arrested, whether they are or not. And, as you’ll learn below, the bond often has nothing to do with the crime you’re charged with and certainly isn’t about how much you can afford to pay.

The cash deposit is arbitrary

Judges are expected to take affordability into account when choosing the bond amount. Unfortunately, this is not what usually happens. Many judges set an arbitrary amount for the bond without thinking about the accused’s ability to pay it. When this happens, the poor or people who simply don’t have immediate access to thousands of dollars end up in jail for days, weeks, or longer.

The cash bond does not really improve public safety

The bond is there as a way to make sure people show up on their court dates. The idea is that if someone puts money as collateral, they’ll show up when they’re supposed to, so they can get that money back. There is also the idea that bail is a matter of public safety. Unfortunately, many people are being held on bail even though they are not charged with a violent crime. In addition, those accused of a violent crime can be released from prison if they can pay their bail (see: Harvey Weinstein).

For example, when a 15-year-old Kalief browder was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack, his bond was set at $ 3,000. Stealing a backpack is not a violent offense. The public would not be in danger if he were at home with his family while awaiting trial. However, bail was set and he ended up in prison for 3 years without trial. He later died by suicide.

Cash bail leads to worse outcomes for those stuck in jail

To make matters worse, those who are jailed before their trial end up having worse results than those who are allowed to return home. First, according to Hubbard, there is a psychological effect on the judges, as they see defendants handcuffed and dressed in prison clothes. This can make them harsher on the accused and prejudge their guilt. Additionally, many people end up pleading guilty to a crime they didn’t commit, just so they can get out of jail sooner. This means that they will have a criminal record, which will affect their future employment prospects. Of course, families and communities are also affected, as their loved one is stuck in prison and unable to help with the household. Being in prison, even for a few days, can result in the loss of a job, housing and even child custody. These results can have an impact on individuals and families for years to come.

The surety industry benefits from this system

Did you know that the United States and the Philippines are the only countries in the world that have a cash bond system? Also, in the United States there is an industry, the surety industry, that actually benefits from this system.

If you can afford to put your bond money as collateral on your own, you will get that money back after showing up on your court dates. However, when you hire a bail bond, you have to pay 10% of your deposit amount as a fee and you will never get that money back. And more often than not, the surety company does not have to pay the rest of the money owed for the surety. So they take 10 percent fees and rarely put the rest of the money in.

This industry is rich and powerful. They don’t want things to change and they will be lobbying to make sure that is the case.

So what are the alternatives?

According to Hubbard, there are many other options available that ensure people will show up to court, without keeping them locked up or needing bail up front.

  • Reclamation service agencies. These agencies provide the court with information about the defendant’s background so that it can make more informed and appropriate release and bail decisions. Not only that, but they offer additional supervision and support to an accused if they are out of jail, such as drug and alcohol supervision and referrals.
  • Unsecured obligation. In an unsecured bond, the defendant signs a contract and agrees to appear in court. If they don’t, they promise to pay the agreed bond amount to the court. In this case, a defendant does not have to put money or collateral; they just have to pay later, if they don’t show up to court.
  • Recall systems in court. Have you ever received an SMS from your dentist reminding you that your appointment is approaching? The idea is the same. Courts should set up SMS or call reminders so people don’t forget their court dates. Without it, all people have is the original piece of paper that shows the day and time to show up. It’s very easy to forget, and you shouldn’t be punished for it. The system should help you remember.
  • Child care. Access to child care services in the United States is a major issue. Many people have no options when it comes to finding someone to look after their children when they are away. Courts can help with this by offering child custody options in the court itself, or by offering vouchers to pay for alternative child care.
  • Transportation to court. It turns out that many people who cannot afford to post a bond cannot necessarily afford to go to court. One way for cities to help in this direction is to either provide actual transport to court or provide vouchers that allow individuals to pay for transport, whether it is a bus ride. or by taxi.

But what can we, as individuals, do to abolish the cash bond?

  • Donate to your local surety fund. It is not a long term solution, but it is helping people solve the problem right now. Bail funds exist so that people who cannot afford to pay their own bail can post bail and be released from prison while awaiting trial.
  • Become a court keeper. Did you know that you can volunteer to go to court to observe how the accused are treated? It’s a great way to get involved in the system. You can find a local court watchdog organization in your area to register and report any discrimination you witness.
  • Tell your elected officials to support the end of the deposit. Our elected officials are supposed to work for us. This is why it is so important to tell them what we want them to do. Contact your local, state, and national politicians and tell them you support ending the cash bond system.
  • Find out what’s going on in your community. There may already be movement on this issue in your local community. In addition, we actually have a lot more impact on our small, more localized communities than at the national level. What you stand up for can make a big difference to many around you.
  • Vote for the candidates who support the abolition of the cash deposit. It’s amazing how much can change if the right politicians are in power. An issue that you support can evolve much faster if your chosen one supports it as well. That is why you should find out which candidates support the abolition of the cash deposit and vote for them.

If you want to know more about the abolition of the cash deposit system, follow the Civil rights body and the work they do. We must not continue to accept unfair systems just because they have always been there. Reform is possible, and reform is imperative.

About Wilhelmina Go

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