On any given day, nearly half a million people sit in jails across the United States because they have been accused—but not convicted—of a crime. Despite being presumed innocent, the vast majority of those individuals are there because they cannot afford to post bail. This system of money bail disproportionately impacts low-income people of color, and black women in particular, with devastating consequences. Even a short period of pretrial detention can result in loss of employment and income, forfeiture of child custody rights, and an increased likelihood of re-arrest. Pretrial detention can also be profoundly traumatic, and even lead to suicide or death.
Cash bail raises fundamental questions about the fairness of our judicial system. Pretrial detention impedes an individual’s ability to contribute to their defense, coerces people to plead guilty, and leads to longer jail and prison sentences. It also unfairly burdens even those who are released, as they and their communities are forced into debt, while the commercial bail industry turns a profit. The consequences of cash bail are particularly stark in California, where the median bail rate is five times higher than that of the rest of the country, and people of color are arrested and booked into jail at dramatically higher rates than white people.
This panel will discuss the problems with the money bail system and highlight the diverse tactics that advocates are employing to challenge it in California and beyond. From community bail funds, to statewide legislation and national bail out actions, a coalition of community-based organizations are working towards ending money bail while also supporting people who are currently incarcerated because of their inability to make bond.