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  • Since 2000, the annual number of people convicted of crimes in the United States

  • has stayed steady, but the average number of people in jail each year has shot up.

  • How can that be?

  • The answer lies in the bail system

  • which isn't doing what it was intended to do.

  • The term "bail" refers to the release of people awaiting trial

  • on condition that they return to court to face charges.

  • Countries around the world use many variations of bail,

  • and some don't use it at all.

  • The U.S. bail system relies primarily on what's called cash bail,

  • which was supposed to work like this:

  • When a person was accused of a crime,

  • the judge would set a reasonable price for bail.

  • The accused would pay this fee in order to be released from jail

  • until the court reached a verdict on the case.

  • Once the case ended, whether found guilty or innocent,

  • they'd get the bail money back if they made all their court appearances.

  • The rationale behind this system is that under U.S. law,

  • people are presumed innocent until proven guilty

  • so someone accused of a crime should not be imprisoned

  • unless they've been convicted of a crime.

  • But today, the bail system in the U.S.

  • doesn't honor the presumption of innocence.

  • Instead, it subverts peoples' rights and causes serious harm,

  • particularly to people in low-income communities

  • and communities of color.

  • A key reason why is the cost of bail.

  • In order for cash bail to work as intended,

  • the price has to be affordable for the accused.

  • The cost of bail wasn't meant to reflect the likelihood of someone's guilt

  • when bail is set, the court has not reviewed evidence.

  • Under exceptional circumstances, such as charges of very serious crimes,

  • judges could deny bail and jail the accused before their trial.

  • Judges were supposed to exercise this power very rarely,

  • and could come under scrutiny for using it too often.

  • Setting unaffordably high bail became a second path

  • to denying people pretrial release.

  • Judges' personal discretion and prejudices played a huge role

  • in who they chose to detain this way.

  • Bail amounts climbed higher and higher, and more and more defendants couldn't pay

  • so they stayed in jail.

  • By the late 19th century,

  • these circumstances led to the rise of commercial bail bond companies.

  • They pay a defendant's bail, in exchange for a hefty fee the company keeps.

  • Today, the median bail is $10,000—

  • a prohibitively high price for almost half of Americans,

  • and as many as nine out of ten defendants.

  • If the defendant can't pay,

  • they may apply for a loan from a commercial bail bond company.

  • It's completely up to the company to decide whose bail they'll pay.

  • They choose defendants they think will pay them back,

  • turning a profit of about $2 billion each year.

  • In fact, in the past 20 years,

  • pretrial detention has been the main driver of jail growth in America.

  • Every year, hundreds of thousands of people

  • who can't afford bail or secure a loan stay in jail until their case is resolved.

  • This injustice disproportionately affects Americans who are Black and Latino,

  • for whom judges often set higher bail

  • than for white people accused of the same offenses.

  • Unaffordable bail puts even innocent defendants in an impossible position.

  • Some end up pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit.

  • For minor offenses, the prosecution may offer a deal that credits time

  • already spent in jail toward the accused's sentence

  • if they plead guilty.

  • Often, the time they've already spent in jail is the total length of the sentence,

  • and they can go home immediatelybut they leave with a criminal record.

  • Defending their innocence, meanwhile,

  • can mean staying in jail indefinitely awaiting trial

  • and doesn't guarantee an innocent verdict.

  • Bail may not even be necessary in the first place.

  • Washington, D.C. largely abolished cash bail in the 1990s.

  • In 2017, the city released 94% of defendants without holding bail money,

  • and 88% of them returned to all their court dates.

  • The nonprofit organization, The Bail Project,

  • provides free bail assistance to thousands of low-income people every year,

  • removing the financial incentive that bail is designed to create.

  • The result? People come back to 90% of their court dates

  • without having any money on the line,

  • and those who miss their court dates tended to

  • because of circumstances like child care, work conflicts, or medical crises.

  • Studies have also found that holding people in jail before trial,

  • often because they cannot afford cash bail,

  • actually increases the likelihood of rearrests and reoffending.

  • The damage of incarcerating people before their trials

  • extends to entire communities and can harm families for generations.

  • People who are incarcerated can lose their livelihoods, homes,

  • and access to essential services

  • all before they've been convicted of a crime.

  • It's also incredibly expensive:

  • American taxpayers spend nearly $14 billion every year

  • incarcerating people who are legally presumed innocent.

  • This undermines the promise of equal justice under the law,

  • regardless of race or wealth.

  • The issues surrounding cash bail are symptomatic of societal problems,

  • like structural racism and over-reliance on incarceration,

  • that need to be addressed.

  • In the meantime, reformers like The Bail Project

  • are working to help people trapped by cash bail

  • and to create a more just and humane pretrial system for the future.

Since 2000, the annual number of people convicted of crimes in the United States

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/12/03
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