Bernie Sanders Introduces Bill to Eliminate Cash Bail
Every day between 400,000 and 500,000 people are behind bars who haven't been convicted of a crime, they are just awaiting their day in court.
Last month Senator Bernie Sanders unveiled legislation to end the use of money bail on the federal level and nudging the states to do the same. The No Money Bail Act would prohibit the federal government from using any payment of money as a condition of pretrial release for criminal cases. It would call for grants to develop alternatives to money bail and to improve pretrial practices with the aim of reducing the number of people detained in jail prior to trial. And it would push states to come along with the shift by denying them access to Justice Department grants if they continue using money bail.
A House companion Bill was introduced by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA). Lieu has introduced similar bills in previous sessions that haven’t been able to stick, including the 2016 No Money Bail Act, which would have helped end the money bail system across the nation. This time Lieu argued, in a prepared statement, that “the money bail system is irrational and dangerous. People who are not at high risk but are poor remain incarcerated, while people who may be dangerous are set free if they have the funds. It's maddening to see that those with money can buy their freedom while poor defendants languish behind bars while awaiting trial. I'm grateful Sen. Sanders is introducing a bill that moves to end our justice system's reliance on money bail. I previously introduced legislation in the House that addresses this issue and I look forward to working with Senator Sanders. The money bail system warrants sustained outrage because America should never be a nation where freedom is based on cash on hand.”
Additionally, the bail reform “requires a study three years after implementation to ensure the new alternate systems are also not leading to disparate detentions rates,” according to a summary of the bill provided by Sanders’s office.
For-profit companies are “making a fortune” off indigent defendants, according to the summary of the Sanders bill.
Indeed, the for-profit bail industry makes between $1.4 billion and $2.4 billion a year, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in a 2017 report. An inability to afford bail leaves defendants across the country languishing in pretrial detention bars for extended periods of time
The No Money Bail Act does the following:
• Formally ends the use of secured bonds in federal criminal proceedings.
• Provides grants to states that wish to implement alternate pretrial systems and reduce their pretrial detention population.
• Withholds grant funding from states that continue to use money bail systems.
• Requires a study three years after implementation to ensure the new alternate systems are also not leading to disparate detentions rates.
“It has always been clear that we have separate criminal justice systems in this country for the poor and for the rich,” the summary reads. “A wealthy person charged with a serious crime may get an ankle monitor and told not to leave the country; a poor person charged with a misdemeanor may sit in a jail cell. And this disproportionately affects minorities — fifty percent of all pretrial detainees are Black or Latinx.”
We are fighting hard to bring this discriminatory system to an end by bringing legal challenges all across the country, calling money bail unconstitutional because it creates two separate systems of justice, one for the rich and another for people who are poor. We have filed 12 challenges against money bail in 9 states. Our work is also inspiring potential policy changes at the federal and state levels. We are an endorser of the bill and continue to work closely as it progresses through the Congress.