Ending wealth-based pretrial detention

 

Every night in this county, there are 500,000 people locked in cages solely because they cannot afford to purchase their freedom. Throughout the United States, people accused of crimes are told that they must pay a certain amount of money in order to be released before trial. In almost every jurisdiction, that amount of money is set without any inquiry into the person’s ability to pay, leading to the pretrial detention of only those individuals who are too poor to buy their freedom. Even a few days stuck in jail after arrest has disastrous consequences, causing people to lose housing, jobs, or child custody, and impeding their ability to work with their lawyers to mount a vigorous defense. People jailed prior to trial are more likely to be convicted, more likely to receive a longer sentence, and more likely to commit crimes in the future. They are also subjected to the disastrous state of American jails, suffering physical assault, sexual violence, and inadequate medical and mental health care.

 

In this way, the American money bail system creates a two-tiered system of justice, incarcerating only impoverished individuals who are already living at the margins of society and struggling to meet the basic necessities of life, and forcing them to wait in jail for days, months, or even years, to bargain for their freedom with private bail bonding agents, or to plead guilty to secure their release, all while wealthier defendants are released back to their families. All of these practices have a disproportionate impact on people of color.

 

Relying on longstanding Supreme Court precedent holding that no person should be kept in jail just because she cannot afford to make a payment, Civil Rights Corps attorneys have brought groundbreaking class action lawsuits across the country, challenging the scourge of money bail and shedding light on the traumatic experience of being jailed for being poor. These cases have prompted dozens of jurisdictions around the country to end their unconstitutional wealth-based pretrial detention policies, and they have provided momentum for a pretrial reform movement that is rippling throughout the United States and changing the way our legal culture and our society think about wealth-based human caging.

 

You can read media coverage of these cases here:

- Is Bail Unconstitutional? - Slate 

- Behind the Burden of Bail: Reporter's Notebook - The New York Times 

Our Bail System Is Leaving Innocent People To Die In Jail Because They’re Poor - The Huffington Post

 

Below are some of our active, representative cases and key legal filings

- McGruder, et. al. v. Harris County

- Robinson et. al. v. Martin et. al. 

- Commonwealth v. Jessica Wagle

- Maurice Walker v. City of Calhoun, Georgia