According to the Prison Policy Initiative, on any given day there are about 630,000 people confined in local jails around our country and, of those, 443,000 are in pre-trial confinement.
That is 70 percent!
And why are they in custody before trial?
Some are considered either to be dangerous to others or a flight risk, but the strong majority stay confined because they don’t have access to enough money to make bail.
What difference does that make?
Tragically, many of them will unnecessarily lose their jobs, which means that their families will not be able to make their rent payments which, in turn, frequently contributes to the break-up of families.
The law says that there are only two factors in determining whether people should be held in custody before trial. The first is whether they likely will appear at court for their trial, and the second is whether, in the meantime, they are a threat to other people.
Straightforwardly, and speaking from first-hand experience, judges live in fear of releasing someone who then goes on to harm witnesses or other people.
So is the answer never to release anyone?
Well no, not only is that not Constitutional or even fair, it is also impractical because we don’t have the jail space. So this puts us into a situation in which risks must be assessed.
So is money a good indicator of either of these two issues?
The main indicators instead are the type of charges that people are facing, and whether they have close ties to the community, such as a job, a family with children in school, and the person’s past history of convictions and/or failures to appear in court.
Presently there is a bill in Sacramento, Senate Bill 10, to change our bail system away from bail and toward a system that individually addresses each person’s individual issues.
This is more like the federal system, and we all should want it to pass.
Today, if people are charged with even misdemeanors, it is common for them to be required to post $5,000 or even $10,000 in bail. That means that they will have to pay a bail bond company a non-refundable ten percent of that bail, which in those cases would be $500 or $1,000. Honestly, if I had to, I could quickly pay even more than that. But many people cannot. And it is wrong for people to be kept in pre-trial confinement simply because they do not have access to that kind of money – particularly since having access to money is not an indication of propensities to be dangerous or a flight risk. By the way, the further result of the large numbers of pre-trial confinement is that many prisoners who have already been tried and convicted and are serving their sentences are released early due to jail overcrowding. Not an equitable situation.
The new bill would require each county to have a detention release officer who would gather information about all detainees and then prescribe individual conditions for them to be released.
For example, maybe some people would be required to wear an electronic ankle bracelet that would broadcast their location. If it was removed, or if they went into areas that were prohibited to them, an alarm would go off. That furnishes both good accountability as well as good deterrence! Or others who had substance abuse or mental health problems could, as a condition of their release, be required to begin programs to address those issues. And, since it is simply wrong unnecessarily to punish anyone before they are convicted, Liberty also would be a winner. So please contact your members of the Legislature and request that they support SB 10. All of these common sense responses would help everyone concerned, except the bail bond industry.
Judge Jim Gray (Ret.) ran as the 2012 Libertarian candidate for Vice President, along with Governor Gary Johnson as the candidate for President
Quote of the week: “My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.” Thomas Jefferson
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