*This piece is part of the ACSblog Symposium: 2017 ACS National Convention. The symposium will consider topics featured at the three day convention, scheduled for June 8-10, 2017.
The evidence is in, and America’s money bail system is not worth the cost.
America and the Philippines are the only two nations that employ a wealth-based pretrial detention system. In this system, criminal defendants are arrested and then assessed an amount of money. If the money is not paid or guaranteed by some other person, the accused remains in jail. The end result of this system is easily understood: rich defendants buy their freedom, and the poor sit behind bars.
Richard Stanford, for example, is a poor defendant. A Vietnam veteran, Mr. Stanford had exactly 31 cents to his name when he was arrested for trespassing in Baltimore County, Maryland. But the judge set his bail at $2,600 and Mr. Stanford was consequently jailed for weeks because he could not buy his freedom for even 10 percent: $260.
This wealth-based system has been called the “front door” of mass incarceration, and for good reason. With more than 400,000 people detained in America awaiting trial, the jails are overflowing with non-violent, presumptively innocent people like Mr. Stanford. This is no surprise in light of the fact that freedom costs money, and the majority of Americans, as the Federal Reserve announced, do not have $400 available for an emergency.