bail system and mass incarceration
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Politics and Activism

The American Bail System Is Placing A Price Tag On Freedom

The American justice system claims to function on the belief that one is "innocent until proven guilty," so why doesn't our current bail system align with this notion?

Carles Rabada

When the bail system was established in America, it was intended to function as a conditional release system. The idea was that once a citizen was placed under arrest if they qualified for bail, the amount would be set at a number that individual could afford and once paid the defendant would be released until they could be brought in to trial. Bail was conceptualized as a means to prevent the incarceration of citizens that have not been convicted of a crime and provide an incentive since the bail amount is returned in full once they appear in court.

This system is meant to support the notion that one is "innocent until proven guilty," a concept that our nation claims to believe in and hold in high regard. But if this is the case, if we truly believe in this, then why are nearly 75% of individuals detained in local jails there solely because they do not have the funds available to pay their bail?

The court system no longer bothers to take into consideration the dollar amount an individual is able to afford, leading to a massive amount of incarceration for non-convicted citizens. A trial has not even happened for this 75% and in many cases won't happen for months or years to come.

The majority of these unjustly imprisoned individuals have been accused of nonviolent misdemeanors and minor infractions yet are subject to periods in jail that they would not be forced to endure if they were able to pay the set bail price. Just a few days in jail can lead to job loss, psychological harm, physical harm from sexual victimization or other types of violence, and the list goes on.

This essentially means we have placed a price tag on freedom for those very individuals that we claim are presumed innocent until a prosecutor can prove otherwise to a jury. If this price tag is too high for the defendant, then they are locked away in a violent and dehumanizing institution for an indefinite amount of time, awaiting a trial date from the tremendously backed up court system. Think about that. The United States of America, which was built on the conviction of freedom, has managed to commodify that thing we all hold so dear. Because of this system, freedom for these citizens is dependent on their income rather than their constitutional rights, and that is not the nation America claims to be.

If we do not believe in the presumption of innocence, then that is something we must wrestle with as a society, but if we intend to continue claiming such a strong supposition as part of our nation's moral code, then reform is necessary. Our current approach to bail facilitates detrimental racial and economic discrimination that we should be truly ashamed of. China, a nation with a population nearly three times the size of our own incarcerates fewer people than we do. Research shows that U.S. crime rates are not on the rise, especially not at the rate they would need to be to justify the extreme overpopulation of our jails.

We have no excuse for this, plain and simple. We can blame nothing but corruption and the systemic flaws that have spurred from it.

Organizations such as The Bail Project are fighting for reform of the bail system and paying people's bail so they can spend the time leading up to their trial outside of prison at their jobs, with their families, just as they should. I urge you to become educated on the complexities of this issue and become an advocate, supporting organizations such as this one in an effort to make a change.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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