Friday, February 02, 2018

Cash Bail Hurts Innocent Poor People

Most people are aware Michigan's legal system uses bail requirements to increase their money flow and to ensure defendants make their court dates.They may even know it perpetuates inequalities in the system, keeping legally innocent people behind bars because they can't make bail. Violent criminals pay bail and walk free every day, while many people accused of less serious crimes and who may, in fact, be innocent are detained because they can't afford bail. The solution to this inequity is to abolish all bail for misdemeanor charges. We can use it to bolster public safety. The amount of cash a defendant has on hand should not the key factor in achieving that. If a defendant is a danger to himself or others, incarcerate him. If he doesn't make it possible for him to go free, whether by setting manageable bail or, as other jurisdictions have done, require none at all.

Here's how the cash bail system works. Someone accused of a crime appears before a judge to be formally charged and apprised of their rights. Defendants who are charged with the most serious crimes or a violent felony while on probation or parole, or who have prior violent felony convictions, are incarcerated until their trial. But almost everyone else is entitled to some kind of bail unless the judge finds them a danger to society. The judges must be honest and fair. Many people are judged safe to release but are nevertheless stuck in jail because they can't come up with the hundred or even thousands of dollars required. Many people from Benton Harbor, Michigan, including myself, do not have access to that kind of money, either because we have no saving or because we don't know someone, who would be willing and able help us. We might find the required frustrating or difficult, but we would pay the money and retain our jobs and, most importantly the income we'd need to pay a lawyer and participate in the preparation of our defense, but many other people have no access to even a few hundred dollars. They face the possible loss of their job and housing, as well as custody of their children. On top of this, they must deal with the difficulty of coordinating with a defense attorney while stuck in the local jail. Remember, this can happen to someone who has been not convicted of anything, and indeed, has been judged safe to release.

This system needs to change so that it does a better job of doing what we want it to do. We must tie the bail decision closely to real factors that matter to public safety and ensure that the ability to pay is never the sole reason an otherwise eligible defendant is incarcerated. We should start gathering data about this practice so that we can observe its effectiveness and improve it further. There is no one size fits all decisions when it comes to incarceration, Customizing bail decisions to the circumstances of the innocent and save taxpayers the very expensive bill for needlessly incarcerating people who have not been convicted of a crime. We must change the system by confronting it with people power.


Rev Edward Pinkney