Google and the Koch brothers walk into a Washington D.C. conference room… The beginning of a weird, wonky beltway joke? Nope. It actually happened. On Tuesday, May 8th 2018, these two often diametrically opposed groups announced their joint endeavour to agitate for the overhaul of the for profit bail system that exists in the majority of states.
No matter who you are in America, the bail system impacts your life. If you or someone you love has been arrested then you know first hand how financially devastating the for profit bail system can be. If you have enough money to post bail outright then maybe it isn’t as much of a hardship but very few families can absorb that kind of an expense. The vast majority of American families must turn to a bail bonds company of one kind or another. No matter if you or yours are found innocent or guilty, you are on the hook for the fees and generally high interest loans needed to post bail.
What is the alternative? Let every person arrested out of jail after processing and hope they show up for their court dates? Don’t be simplistic. Kentucky, Tennessee, New Jersey and many other states have systems in place where every case is reviewed and decisions are made regarding who is held without an option of release and who is released.
Is this a simplified telling of a complicated social problem? Yes. Are there many better explanations out there? Absolutely. Here are two. The first one is John Oliver and the second one is short and full of good information.
It all boils down to tis: rich people tend to go free and poor people tend to sit in jail even when they’ve committed the exact same crime. The middle class spends huge amounts of money, relative to their income, getting their loved ones (or themselves) out of jail. And every taxpayer pays to keep non-violent offenders in jail even though there is evidence to suggest that the for profit system is no better at compelling people to appear for their court dates that a case-by-case review. And while people are sitting in jail, sometimes they lose their jobs which can lead to them losing their cars and their homes and even custody of their children. These things are lost not because the person is guilty of committing a crime. People are innocent until proven guilty. People lose some or all of these things because they cannot afford to pay their way out of jail. This is a problem rich people tend not to encounter when brought into the criminal justice system. Freedom isn’t free, but the for profit bail system has been putting a high price on it for long enough. Let’s do better.