The majority of court systems across the nation currently rely on what is known as wealth-based pre-trial detention. In other words, a system whereby those defendants able to post bail are released from jail while those unable to do so must remain behind bars until their day in court -- something that might not happen for months or years.
Critics have long argued that wealth-based pre-trial detention is not only unjust, but also dangerous to communities. Indeed, they point out how many of the individuals forced to await their fate in county jails have only been charged with low-level, nonviolent offenses, while this is not necessarily the case with their wealthy or connected counterparts able to post bail.
Furthermore, these critics have long pointed out that keeping nonviolent offenders behind bars owing to nothing more than their inability to post bail comes with a tremendous price tag.
Statistics show that the total cost of incarcerating mostly nonviolent offenders is upwards of $38 million per day or $14 billion per year.
Given all of the aforementioned realities, and the fact that people simply awaiting their trial dates accounted for 95 percent of the total jail population growth from 2000 to 2014, two U.S. senators have introduced bipartisan legislation calling on the 50 states to introduce much-needed bail reform.
Last week, Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act, which, if passed, would do the following:
- Earmark $10 million per year in grant money for three years to be allocated among those states that take the initiative of moving away from wealth-based pre-trial detention and in its place adopt personalized risk assessments, pretrial release for the majority of inmates and/or appointment of public defenders at the initial period of pretrial detention
- Require states receiving funds to provide progress reports and ensure via data analysis that risk assessments adopted are not being deployed in a discriminatory manner
- Allocate more funds to the Bureau of Criminal Justice Statistics to enhance data collection efforts on pretrial defendants
“In courtrooms around America, someone is released before their trial based on whether they can afford write a check or not and not necessarily based on whether they present a risk to their community,” said Harris at a recent event. “That ain’t right. It’s not fair.”
While criminal justice advocates have indicated $10 million per year is barely enough to make a dent, they have nevertheless expressed hope that the legislation will serve as a sort of catalyst for broader bail reform efforts.
The bill's chances for gaining traction on Capitol Hill remain uncertain, however, given the political gridlock on most issues. However, there's always a chance lawmakers might welcome the opportunity to rally around an issue.
Stay tuned for updates …
Consider speaking with an experienced skilled legal professional as soon as possible if you are under investigation or have been charged with any manner of federal offense.