The Next 400: Critics say the cash bail system penalizes the poor

The Next 400: Critics say the cash bail system penalizes the poor
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens) (Source: Kathy Willens)

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - There’s a growing call to reform the cash bail system—where freedom is tied to how much bail you can afford.

“You’re really guilty until proven innocent until you can if you can’t afford a bill,” said Cleveland bail disruptor Anthony Body about the cash bail system.

The ACLU states that cash bail was supposed to be collateral so people would show up to court, but if the defendants are too poor and can’t come up with the bail money, then they end up sitting in jail until their court date.

Retired Cleveland Municipal Court Presiding Judge, Ron Adrine, sat on the bench for 36 years and stated the system penalizes the poor.

“We’ve been using money as a gauge. There’s no nexus between money and whether or not somebody is going to show up for court and whether or not they’re going to commit a new crime while they’re out.”
Judge Ron Adrine

It is up for a judge to decide how much bail for each defendant, which is another criticism of the cash bail system.

The Next 400: Critics say the cash bail system penalizes the poor

Judge Adrine said he saw this play out firsthand, describing how someone who received a first-degree misdemeanor arrest had to put up the same $2000 of bail as though it was an assault charge.

An example of a first-degree misdemeanor is not having a driver’s license.

Civil rights groups like the ACLU said the cash-bail system has disproportionately targeted black and brown defendants for generations.

Judge Adrine states that elected officials made policy decisions that created the system we see now.

“Back in the 80s, when there was this declared war on drugs, it had a disparate impact on communities of color. People were using drugs in all sections of the community—in black and brown communities, it was done in outdoor marketplaces. In contrast, in white communities, drugs were being consumed in the sanctity of people’s homes.”
Judge Ron Adrine

“The police were going after the people on the street because it was like shooting fish in a barrel,” continued Judge Adrine. “They were easy to get. So starting in the 70s, really accelerating in the 80s, and then the 90s—especially with the disparate impact on cocaine crack versus powder, you saw an emphasis on enforcement in black and brown communities. That resulted in huge numbers of African Americans and Latinos going to jail and staying there for long periods of time because it was mandated that they do so.”

The Next 400: Critics of the cash bail system say poor, people of color disproportionately affected

A recent study at the University of Pittsburgh found black defendants were given higher bail amounts and held in jail on an average of two weeks longer than other defendants.

“On a daily basis, I was sitting there watching this wave of black people, black men in particular, roll through my court and head towards the Common Pleas court knowing that many of them will end up with a felony record and a significant proportion of them are going to go to prison. Whether they went to prison or whether they just got a felony record it would destroy the rest of their lives, and their families and their families and our community,” said Judge Adrine.

It increases the likelihood of conviction and harsher sentences.

Defendants may also end up pleading guilty to get out of jail.

Most defendants can’t pay bills from a jail cell. On top of the obvious expenses, defendants must also factor in their housing, jobs, and any children they have.

Again, the heart of bail reform is the problem of punishing the poor.

Seventy-five percent of those in pre-trial detention have been charged with property crimes, or low-level drug offenses according to the American Bar Association.

Court records show he was being held on theft charges.

Body said people like Wormick are the ones who need help, not jail time.

“He was out trying to fend for himself and provide food and so forth,” said Body. “So he was ultimately ended up being put he put in jail on a $5,000 10% bond, which would be $500 or $585.

He couldn’t afford bail. So, he ended up having to sit in jail. He sat there for a few days, and he ultimately ended up dying, he died in jail. We weren’t able to get him out of jail, and he wasn’t able to afford bail.”

Supporters, however, said high bail stops people from becoming a flight risk.

Some prosecutors also argue that it’s about public safety and keeping dangerous people off the streets.

In January, New York State abolished bail for nonviolent crimes and misdemeanors, but shortly after the New York Police Department released numbers showing a spike in crime, they blamed it on getting rid of bail.

New Jersey virtually got rid of the monetary bail system in their state courts in January of 2017.

In 2017, the first year of CJR, the pretrial jail population decreased another 19 percent, from 7,058 to 5,718 defendants.

In 2018, the pretrial jail population declined an additional 13 percent to 4,995 defendants. In total, New Jersey’s pretrial jail population has declined 43.9 percent since December 31, 2015.

The 2013 study found that nearly 40 percent of New Jersey’s jail population was incarcerated because of an inability to post bail.

A comparison of the jail population six years apart revealed the following: There were 6,000 fewer people incarcerated on October 3, 2018 than on the same day in 2012.

Only 4.6 percent of individuals in jail on October 3, 2018 were held on bail of $2,500 or less, compared to 12 percent on the same day in 2012.

The average court appearance rate was more than 89 percent in both 2014 and 2017.

Defendants showed up on average for 92.7 percent of pretrial court appearances in 2014 and 89.4 percent of court appearances in 2017.

The percentage of defendants charged with a new indictable crime while awaiting trial was 12.7 percent in 2014 and 13.7 percent in 2017.

In Boston, the Suffolk County D.A is doing just that-- dismissing low-level, nonviolent offenses, or resolving them without jail time.

In 2019 the Suffolk County District Attorney Rachel Rollins released a memo outlining progressive prosecution reform.

Data in Suffolk County showed since 17 of the top 25 most frequently filed charges were categorized as nonviolent- claiming the many of the defendants are “driven by economic, mental health, and social needs.”

“The bottom line is that judges, police officers, prosecutors were all operating on their perception of what the community wanted-- they thought that what the community wanted was to lock them all up Regardless of whether or not they constituted a threat. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, they had to step back and really look at who could they keep in? Who did they have to keep in? And who could they let out?” said Judge Ron Adrine.

The Ohio Supreme Court filed its proposed amendments to Criminal Rule 46 in January-- where within two business days of arrest you can get a bail hearing, and also reigning in a Judge’s power by requiring judges to apply the “least restrictive” conditions when setting bail.

It was set to become law July 1 if there were no objections.

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