WASHINGTON, July 25 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation Wednesday to end money bail, which would prevent people from being locked up before trial solely because they cannot afford their bail. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) has introduced a companion bill in the House.
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world and nearly a quarter of all people imprisoned on any given day, disproportionately black, Latinx, and Native American, are “unconvicted”—meaning they are sitting in jail waiting for a trial, plea bargain or conclusion to their case. Hundreds of thousands of the “unconvicted” population are in jail simply because they could not afford their bail.
In introducing his bill Sanders said: “Poverty is not a crime and hundreds of thousands of Americans, convicted of nothing, should not be in jail today because they cannot afford cash bail. In the year 2018, in the United States, we should not continue having a ‘debtor prison’ system. Our destructive and unjust cash bail process is part of our broken criminal justice system – and must be ended.”
"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,” Lieu said. “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.”
Sanders’ bill, The No Money Bail Act of 2018, would formally end the use of secured bonds in federal criminal proceedings, provide grants to states that wish to implement alternate pretrial systems to reduce their pretrial detention population and withholds grant funding from states that continue to use money bail systems. It would also require a study three years after implementation to ensure the new alternate systems are also not leading to disparate detention rates.
The U.S. spends nearly $14 billion each year locking people up without a conviction. Cities and states could save substantial amounts of money by ending cash bail systems. It costs $75 a day to detain someone but only $7 to supervise them in the community. Additionally, for-profit companies make a fortune off poor defendants. The for-profit bail industry makes well over a billion dollars each year, with the United States being one of only two countries in the world that even allows for-profit bond companies.
Sanders’ legislation is supported by the ACLU, Brennan Center and Color of Change.
“Money bail punishes people for being poor,” said Priya Raghavan, counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program. “It’s a system that entrenches inequality and encourages unnecessary incarceration. The legislation introduced by Senator Sanders is an important step towards eliminating wealth-based systems of pretrial detention, an approach we called for in our recent Criminal Justice Agenda.”
For a summary of the bill, click here.
For the full text, click here.