5 Themes of Injustice


In October 2015, Crystal Patterson — then 29-years old — was arrested for the first time in her life after a physical fight with her brother-in-law. She works hard at a low-wage job to provide for herself and her 80-year-old grandmother (for whom she is the sole caretaker). After Crystal’s arrest, she was booked in the county jail and told she could be released if she paid $150,000 — money neither she nor her family has. The poorer you are in San Francisco, the worse the system treats you. A wealthy individual facing Crystal’s exact same charges could simply purchase his or her freedom. In fact, for the rich, the cost is zero, because the full $150,000 is returned when the case ends. For poorer individuals, private bail companies require a non-refundable payment of 10% — $15,000 in Crystal’s case — and poor arrestees never see that money again (it’s more expensive to be poor, as the cruel saying goes). For those living on the brink of poverty, like Crystal, private bail companies offer a predatory option: Crystal could pay 1% of the bail amount — or $1,500 — and sign a debt agreement to finance the balance of the $15,000 at the maximum interest rate allowable by law. Desperate to take care of her grandmother, Crystal scraped together $1,500. After 31 hours in jail, she signed the debt agreement and went home. Just hours after Crystal left the jail, the district attorney looked at her file and decided there wasn’t enough evidence to file charges. Crystal was never charged with a crime; she never had a single court date; she has no case against her. And yet, she will be paying off the balance of her $15,000 debt — with interest — for years and years to come. For someone with no criminal charges and only doing her best to care for herself and her grandmother, injustices like this must end. Equal Justice Under Law is proud to represent Crystal Patterson and others like her as we fight to bring an end to America’s discriminatory money bail practice.