The fight to end money bail just landed in the Senate, as Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced a bill today (July 25) aimed at preventing people from being detained simply because they cannot afford bail. Representative Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) previously introduced similar legislation in 2016 and 2017. Senators Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also introduced their own bail reform bill in 2017; it is still sitting with the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
According to the Pretrial Justice Institute, 60 percent of people in United States jails are awaiting trial, meaning they haven’t been found guilty of a crime. Black men receive bail amounts that are 35 percent higher than White men, while Latinx men’s bail is set 19 percent higher. Studies also show that people who can’t afford bail are three to four times more likely to be convicted, and their sentences are two to three times longer than those who are released ahead of their trials. Plus, Black, Latinx and Native Americans are disproportionately incarcerated in this country overall.
“Poverty is not a crime and hundreds of thousands of Americans, convicted of nothing, should not be in jail today because they cannot afford cash bail,” Sanders said in a statement about the No Money Bail Act of 2018. “In the year 2018, in the United States, we should not continue having a ‘debtor prison’ system. Our destructive and unjust cash bail process is part of our broken criminal justice system—and must be ended.”
Lieu lent his support to the Senate bill in the statement, saying, “The money bail system is irrational and dangerous. People who are not at high risk but are poor remain incarcerated, while people who may be dangerous are set free if they have the funds. It’s maddening to see that those with money can buy their freedom while poor defendants languish behind bars while awaiting trial.”
The bill seeks to end the use of secured bonds in criminal proceedings winding through federal courts, issue grants to states that want to implement systems that reduce pretrial detention populations, and withhold grants from states that wish to remain entrenched in the money bail system. It also seeks to implement a three-year study that would check the revised system to be sure it’s not contributing to a disparity in detention rates.
It takes up a fight advanced by activists around the country, including Southerners on New Ground, Essie Justice Group and the Texas Organizing Project. It has garnered support from the American Civil Liberties Union and racial advocacy group Color of Change.
“We believe this bill will address the financial and psychological harm money bail has on Black people, our families and communities. We call on members of Congress to take action. We must stop being a nation that locks up our citizens based on their inability to pay,” Scott Roberts, Color of Change’s senior campaign director, said in an emailed statement. “When taxpayers foot the bill for needlessly locking up poor people before trial, the government is essentially subsidizing a racist, unnecessary and outright dangerous industry.”