Skip to main content
University of Wisconsin–Madison
Poverty-related issues in the news, from the Institute for Research on Poverty

Tag: Bail

Criminal Justice System

  • Justice reforms take hold, the inmate population plummets, and Philadelphia closes a notorious jail, By Tom Jackman, April 23, 2018, Washington Post: “The American criminal justice system’s gradual realization that too many people are in jail needlessly just got a large, visible boost from the city of Philadelphia. The city announced last week that it would close its notorious 91-year-old House of Correction jail because reforms begun two years ago have dropped the city’s jail population by 33 percent, without causing any increase in crime or chaos…”
  • Efforts to regulate bail companies have some unlikely allies: bail agents, By Jazmine Ulloa, April 24, 2018, Los Angeles Times: “In recent years, the seriousness and number of official complaints related to the bail industry in California have significantly increased while bail agents and bounty hunters face limited oversight, putting vulnerable communities at risk of fraud, embezzlement and other forms of victimization. This year, as Gov. Jerry Brown has pledged to work with lawmakers in a push to overhaul how courts assign defendants bail and to better regulate bail agencies, even some who profit from the court practice admit it’s time for regulation. These bail and bail-recovery agents could become unlikely allies, saying they advocate for change because they’ve seen the system abuse the poor…”
  • Mississippi defendants spend months in jail awaiting trial, By Jeff Amy (AP), April 24, 2018, Houston Chronicle: “Jerry Sanders has been sitting in a jail cell on a relatively minor charge of methamphetamine possession for more than a year — longer than the sentence he could get if he’s convicted. And with no money to post bail or hire his own lawyer, he may be sitting there for weeks or months more…”

Bail System

When bail feels less like freedom, more like extortion, By Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Shaila Dewan, March 31, 2018, New York Times: “Most bail bond agents make it their business to get their clients to court. But when Ronald Egana showed up at the criminal courthouse in New Orleans, he was surprised to find that his bondsman wanted to stop him. A bounty hunter was waiting at the courthouse metal detector to intercept Mr. Egana and haul him to the bond company office, he said. The reason: The bondsman wanted to get paid. Mr. Egana ended up in handcuffs, missing his court appearance while the agency got his mother on the phone and demanded more than $1,500 in overdue payments, according to a lawsuit. It was not the first time Mr. Egana had been held captive by the bond company, he said, nor would it be the last. Each time, his friends or family was forced to pay more to get him released, he said…”

Bail Reform – Ohio

Cuyahoga County task force seeks sweeping bail reforms, By Peter Krouse, March 16, 2018, Cleveland Plain Dealer: “Cuyahoga County should adopt sweeping judicial reforms that would dramatically change the way bail is set and give poor defendants a better shot at justice, according to a much-awaited report by a task force of local judges, lawyers and legal experts.  Today’s release of the report follows more than 18 months of reporting by cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer in Justice for All, a series examining how the region’s bail systems dispense unequal justice, needlessly and unfairly jailing some suspects simply because they can’t afford to pay for their freedom…”

Debt Collection and the Poor

  • Debtors’ prison: ACLU report details ‘criminalization of private debt’, By Jon Schuppe, February 21, 2018, NBC News: “Americans’ reliance on household debt ─ and poor people’s struggles to pay it off ─ has fueled a collection industry that forces many of them into jail, a practice that critics call a misuse of the criminal justice system…”
  • How Chicago ticket debt sends black motorists into bankruptcy, By Melissa Sanchez and Sandhya Kambhampati, February 27, 2018, ProPublica: “By last summer, Laqueanda Reneau felt like she had finally gotten her life on track. A single mother who had gotten pregnant in high school, she supported her family with a series of jobs at coffee shops, restaurants and clothing stores until she landed a position she loved as a community organizer on Chicago’s West Side. At the same time, she was working her way toward a degree in public health at DePaul University. But one large barrier stood in her way: $6,700 in unpaid tickets, late fines and impound fees…”

Cash Bail System

  • What happened when New Jersey stopped relying on cash bail, By Maddie Hanna, February 16, 2018, Philadelphia Inquirer: “One year into New Jersey’s nationally watched overhaul of its bail system, the state’s pretrial jail population has dropped 20 percent as courts have all but stopped setting cash bail…”
  • Philadelphia DA drops cash bail for ‘low-level’ crimes, By Anthony Izaguirre (AP), February 21, 2018, Philadelphia Inquirer: “Philadelphia’s top prosecutor said Wednesday his office will stop jailing people who cannot afford to pay cash bail in minor criminal cases, affirming the commitment of the country’s fifth-largest city to a national movement that argues the practice targets poor Americans…”

Bail Reform

  • New Jersey claims bail-reform a success, cites huge drop in jail population, By Peter Krouse, February 13, 2018, Cleveland Plain Dealer: “One year after sweeping criminal-justice reforms became law in New Jersey, the state has “successfully transformed an antiquated money bail system into a modern risk-based system,” the state’s courts reported Tuesday…”
  • Could Dallas’ bail system be deemed an ‘instrument of oppression’ after Houston ruling?, By Naomi Martin, February 16, 2018, Dallas News: “On the one hand, it was a kick in the gut.  But it was also a roadmap. That’s how Dallas County officials see a much-anticipated ruling by a federal appeals court on bail reform. For years, county leaders and judges have been in talks to overhaul the criminal bail system to make it easier for poor arrestees who aren’t dangerous to be released from jail while they await trial…”

Bail Reform

  • Atlanta mayor signs new ordinance changing cash bail system in a nod to the needy, By Rhonda Cook, February 5, 2018, Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed an ordinance Tuesday that eliminates the Municipal Court’s cash bond requirement for some low-level offenders who otherwise would sit in jail because they can’t afford bail…”
  • Delaware strengthens bail reform movement, By J. B. Wogan, January 29, 2018, Governing: “Delaware Gov. John Carney signed a bill late last week that places the state among a small group that has moved away from cash bail. ‘You have poor people who pose no risk of flight or no risk to the community incarcerated on a full-time basis before trial,’ says Delaware state Sen. Bryan Townsend, a co-sponsor of the bill. ‘That’s not at all what the criminal justice system is supposed to be about.’ On any given day, jails across the country house some 700,000 people — many of whom are there because they can’t afford to pay bail…”

Cash Bail System – Dallas, TX

Poor people locked up longer than the rich, violating Constitution in Dallas, lawsuit alleges, By Cary Aspinwall and Naomi Martin, January 21, 2018, Dallas Morning News: “The day that Dallas County leaders have been dreading for years finally arrived on Sunday: four nonprofits filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging the jail’s cash bail system unfairly harms poor people and violates the Texas and U.S. constitutions. The lawsuit, which officials feared due to its potentially hefty price tag, alleges Dallas County’s cash bail system fails to consider a jailed defendant’s ability to pay to post bond, resulting in disparate treatment in the criminal justice system…”

Bail Reform – New York

Cuomo, in bid to help poor, proposes ending cash bail for minor crimes, By James C. McKinley Jr., January 2, 2018, New York Times: “Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo plans to ask the New York State Legislature to eliminate cash bail for many crimes and to speed up the disclosure of evidence in trials as part of a package of proposals intended make the criminal justice system fairer for indigent defendants, his aides said…”

Bail System – California

California’s bail system is ‘unsafe and unfair,’ study finds, By Eric Westervelt, October 25, 2017, National Public Radio: “The national effort to get states to move away from a bail system based on money — something detractors call unjust and antiquated — got a big boost this week: A yearlong study backed by California’s chief justice recommended money bail be abolished and replaced with a system that includes robust safety assessments and expanded pretrial services. Calling the state’s commercial bail system ‘unsafe and unfair,’ a working group created by California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye argues that the state’s bail system bases a defendant’s liberty too much on his or her finances, rather than an assessment of whether the defendant is a flight or safety risk…”

Bail Reform – Alabama

Too poor to make bail: Alabama forced to reform ‘two-tiered’ jail system, By Anna Claire Vollers, October 11, 2017, Al.com: “In May, Kandace Edwards had hit rock bottom. She was 29 years old and homeless, the mother of two toddlers. They lived in rural Randolph County on the Alabama-Georgia line, staying with a variety of friends – some of whom did not have electricity or running water – since her eviction five months previously. Edwards was also 7 months pregnant and had just lost her waitressing job, she said, after the restaurant let her go because her high-risk pregnancy prevented her from working in certain conditions. She had no income, relying on food stamps and Medicaid for support. She’d granted temporary custody of her children to her mother-in-law. Then Edwards was arrested for forging a $75 check. It was a felony charge, and bail was set at $7,500…”

Bail Reform

Post bail, By Jon Schuppe, August 20, 2017, NBC News: “On the ground floor of a deteriorating county courthouse, in a room outfitted with temporary office furniture and tangles of electrical wires, a cornerstone of America’s criminal justice system is crumbling. A 20-year-old man in a green jail jumpsuit appears on a video monitor that faces a judge. It is early June, and he has been arrested for driving a car with a gun locked in the glove compartment.  If he were in almost any other courtroom in the country, he’d be ordered to stay behind bars until he posted bail — if he could afford it. This is what millions of people charged with crimes from shoplifting to shootings have done for more than two centuries. The bail system, enshrined in the Bill of Rights, is meant to ensure that all defendants, presumed innocent before trial, get a shot at freedom and return to court. But allowing people to pay for their release has proved unfair to people who don’t have much money…”

Bail System – Illinois

Rauner signs law to change rules for paying cash to get out of jail, By Kim Geiger, June 9, 2017, Chicago Tribune: “Low-level offenders who have been arrested and can’t come up with enough money to get out of jail can get a rehearing of their bail amount, under a plan signed into law Friday by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner…”

Bail System – California

Here’s how state lawmakers plan to reform the bail system in CaliforniaBy Jazmine Ulloa, March 26, 2017, Los Angeles Times: “State lawmakers have unveiled an ambitious plan to reform how counties in California set bail for defendants while they wait for their cases to be resolved or go to trial.  New language added Friday to bills by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) would prevent criminal defendants from having to post money as a condition of release from jail and would shift some power from judges to pretrial services agencies to assess the risks they would pose if allowed out in the community…”

US Bail System and the Poor

  • Obama’s lawyers challenge the money bail system: Can people be kept in jail just because they are poor?, By David Savage, August 25, 2016, Chicago Tribune: “President Obama’s civil rights lawyers are seeking a potentially far-reaching ruling to hold that the Constitution forbids the common practice of keeping people in jail prior to a trial, even for minor offenses, just because they are too poor to pay for bail.  Every day, about 450,000 people are held under arrest in city and county jails because they cannot afford bail, according to the Southern Center for Human Rights and Equal Justice Under Law, a small Washington-based civil rights group…”
  • Justice department steps in against jailing practices that target poor people, By Jamiles Lartey, August 24, 2016, The Guardian: “Maurice Walker’s case is far from exceptional.  Arrested on 3 September 2015 for public intoxication, Walker, a 54-year-old black man with a serious mental disorder that leaves him unable to work, was faced with two options: pay a $160 cash bond and leave jail that day, or remain in jail over a holiday weekend. Walker told officials that he couldn’t afford the standard bond required by the city for the misdemeanor and wound up spending six days in jail, only being allowed out of his cell for an hour a day. Walker said he was also denied daily medication he took for his disorder…”

Bail System – Connecticut

Gov. Malloy proposes elimination of bail for some offenders, By Daniela Altimari, January 28, 2016, Hartford Courant: “Standing in a church in the North End Thursday afternoon, Gov.Dannel P. Malloy outlined his plan to take on a bail system that dates from medieval England. The Democratic governor is proposing an end to bail for low-risk defendants charged with low-level crimes. In cases where bond is set as a condition of release, Malloy is calling for a new system that would permit defendants to sidestep bail bondsmen and put up a cash deposit directly with the court in order to secure their freedom…”

US Bail System and the Poor

Court by court, lawyers fight policies that fall heavily on the poor, By Shaila Dewan, October 23, 2015, New York Times: “In January, Christy Dawn Varden was arrested in a Walmart parking lot, charged with shoplifting and three other misdemeanors, and taken to jail. There, she was told that if she had $2,000, she could post bail and leave. If she did not, she would wait a week before seeing a judge. Ms. Varden, who lived with her mother and two children, had serious mental and physical health problems; her only income was her monthly food stamp allotment.  Two days later, a civil rights lawyer named Alec Karakatsanis sued on behalf of Ms. Varden, alleging that bail policies in Clanton, a city of 8,619, discriminated against the poor by imprisoning them while allowing those with money to go free…”

US Bail System

When bail is out of defendant’s reach, other costs mount, By Shaila Dewan, June 10, 2015, New York Times: “Dominick Torrence, who has lived in this city all his life, has a long rap sheet for dealing drugs but no history of violence. So when he was charged with disorderly conduct and rioting on April 28, a night of unrest after Freddie Gray was fatally injured in police custody, he was shocked to learn the amount he would need to make bail: $250,000, the same amount as two of the officers facing charges over Mr. Gray’s death.  Although a bail bondsman would charge only a fraction of that, normally 10 percent, for many defendants $25,000 is as impossible a sum as $250,000. ‘That’s something you get for murder or attempted murder,’ Mr. Torrence, 29, said from Baltimore Central Booking. ‘You’re telling me I have to take food out of my kid’s mouth so I can get out of jail.’  He spent a month in jail on charges that would later be dropped…”