Alt Press Pick of the Week: How Bail Bonds Exploit the Poor

Alternative Press Center

The for-profit bail bond bond industry has exasperated the economic and racial injustices already inherent in the country's money bail system. (Steve Snodgrass / Flickr / Creative Commons)
One insidious form of economic exploitation of the poor is the U.S. bail bond industry, designed to make a profit off the pretrial release of the accused. In the November, 2012 issue of Prison Legal News Tracy Velázquez, Melissa Neal and Spike Bradford deconstruct the exploitative profit-driven basis for the industry and offer a set of reform options to make pretrial release better for the health of the accused, their families, and the community that actually delivers more efficiency, more compliance with the law, and more equitable justice that the for-profit bail bond industry is constitutionally incapable of providing. "Bailing on Justice: The Dysfunctional System of Using Money to Buy Pretrial Freedom" by Tracy Velázquez, Melissa Neal and Spike Bradford (Prison Legal News, November 2012, v.23 no.11, pp1-13) Many people remain in jail pretrial because they don’t have the cash to “buy their freedom” by paying required money bail. However, the ability to pay money bail is an indicator neither of a person’s guilt nor of their risk to public safety. Meanwhile, those too poor to pay money bail remain incarcerated regardless of their risk level or presumed innocence. There is no national data regarding how long people stay in jail until their case is resolved; however, in the 75 most populous counties, people accused of felonies who did not post bail in 2002 stayed in jail a median of 51 days until trial (that is, more than half waited 51 days or more). A recent study concluded that 25% more people being held in jail pretrial could be safely released than are currently being released. Keeping those persons incarcerated hinders their ability to take care of their families, jobs and communities while overcrowding jails and increasing costs to taxpayers.

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Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
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