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When Bail Means Jail

June 10, 2015
Plain English Version

BailBail is the amount of money you need to pay to be released from jail before you are indicted or put on trial.

Should lack of money be the reason some people stay in jail, and some people get to walk out of jail? That question is being asked more and more these days.

Being in jail keeps you from working. That can mean financial hardship for the family of the accused.

Recently, attention has been on the many ways the poor suffer because they do not have enough money to make bail.

This is that world. If you do not make child support payments, you may land in jail. If you do not pay traffic tickets, you may be without a license to drive to work. If you cannot make bail, you may wait in jail.

All of these penalties fall harder on the poor. In these cases, the poor are often black.

Observers say bails and fines are revenues for the government that is collecting them. It is revenue, like taxes.

Bail can let dangerous people get out of jail. Following the riots in Baltimore, many defendants who could not raise bail were not charged with crimes such as disorderly conduct.

A judge elsewhere said, “Too often, bail is really being set to keep the person in custody. It is not supposed to do that. It is supposed to guarantee their appearance in court. They are innocent until proven guilty. The bail system assumes they’re guilty.”

People called bail bondsmen often put up the bail. They charge the accused 10 percent of the amount of the bail. When people do not show up for trial, the government keeps all of the bail money. Sometimes the bondsmen will pursue the person to bring him in for trial and to recover the bail money. The bail bond industry opposes changes in bail practices. The 10 percent commission is how they make a living.

 Washington, D.C. ended money bail in the 1990s. When defendants are said to be to too risky to release, they are held in “preventive detention.” Very few of those released fail to appear in court.

Source: The New York Times June 10, 2015


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