Ending American Money Bail
No one should spend time in jail simply because he or she is poor, but every day about 450,000 Americans sit in jail for that very reason.
Despite the constitutional guarantee that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, our current money bail system forces arrestees to pay an arbitrary amount of bail money to secure release before trial. Those who can afford to purchase their liberty walk free, while those who can’t languish in jail pending trial. The result is discriminatory pretrial detention based on wealth-status, not any meaningful assessment of flight risk or danger to the community.
Equal Justice Under Law is dedicated to ending this discriminatory practice of jailing hundreds of Americans solely because of their poverty by filing class action lawsuits against money bail systems all across the country.
A Societal Problem
Wealth-based detention has disastrous consequences: overcrowding of local jails, lost jobs, lost housing, poor sanitation and medical care, broken families, and drained local budgets. In many cases, an arrestee may be held longer in jail while awaiting trial than any sentence she or he would likely receive if convicted, causing innocent people to plead guilty to offenses that they did not commit in order to shorten lengthy pretrial detention. Individuals who are detained are not able to assist their attorneys in the investigation of the charges against them, resulting in wrongful convictions and longer sentences.
As the U.S. Department of Justice said in an amicus brief filed in our money bail case in Alabama, Varden v. City of Clanton:
It is the position of the United States that, as courts have long recognized, any bail or bond scheme that mandates payment of pre-fixed amounts for different offenses in order to gain pre-trial release, without any regard for indigence, not only violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, but also constitutes bad public policy.