Reform America’s Discriminatory Bail System

Every day in America 450,000 people are in jail not because they have been convicted of a crime, but because they are awaiting trial and cannot afford to post bail. The Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution prohibits “punishing a person for his poverty,” but requiring cash bail means who ends up in jail is determined not by risk to society or likelihood of skipping court, but by ability to pay. Pretrial jail time has devastating effects; after just a day, jobs and housing can be lost or custody of children can be taken away. In July, Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act of 2017 (S.1593) to incentivize states to reform or replace their bail systems. The program will allow states to research and evaluate bail reform, and to implement best practices for pretrial analysis and services. The bill encourages improved data collection on pretrial programs allowing for better analysis of outcomes and requires states receiving funds to report on progress and results. The bail system is not only broken for those within the criminal justice system, but it is also ineffective at making America safer and is expensive for taxpayers. Studies have shown that in some jurisdictions, half of “high risk” defendants are released simply because they are able to post bail, while unnecessary jail time for low-risk defendants actually decreases their likelihood of appearing in court while increasing their likelihood of future offenses. Jail space for the largely nonviolent pretrial population costs American taxpayers $14B a year and that number is growing; pretrial defendants accounted for 95% of the growth in jail population between 2001 and 2014. The Pretrial Justice Institute has estimated that bail reform could save Americans up to $78 billion per year. The Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act, a bipartisan bill, is a modest and encouraging step towards addressing America's discriminatory, expensive, ineffective bail system."