How bail punishes the poor for their poverty



At the Mastantuno Law Firm, we frequently represent our clients at bond hearings and are often faced with trying to get high bonds reduced. Unfortunately in today’s legal system, defendants charged with minimal crimes often sit in jail much longer than necessary. The truth is sometimes they are not able to pay the bond required for them to be released until their court date.

In order to understand this issue further, it’s important to understand the difference between jail and prison. According to the Washington Post, “Convicts are sent to prison to serve their sentences, but people generally go to jail for short periods while awaiting a hearing or a trial. Far more Americans go to jail in a given year than to prison, although most of them have not been convicted of any crime. Then there are those with mental illnesses who simply don’t have other options. And increasingly, jail has become a de facto punishment for poverty, as the poor are forced to remain there in lieu of bail while awaiting trial…”

While some defendants are given personal recognizance bonds where they are not required to pay and are trusted to show up at the court date, others find themselves facing a high fee and often have to involve bail bondsmen. For people living in poverty, the inability to come up with a few thousand dollars means the difference between sitting in jail for 1 day, or indefinitely until the trial is scheduled.

Even a few days of missed work can result in unemployment for these citizens often working low wage jobs to begin with.

Many feel more attention needs to be paid to a defendant’s flight risk when setting their bond.

According to the Washington Post, “John Pfaff, a law professor at Fordham University, said that the equations that agencies…use to evaluate defendants are becoming more reliable, as researchers and statisticians examine more data and refine their techniques. “We actually have increasingly good models of who poses a risk and who doesn’t pose a risk,” he said, adding that in jailing those who are unlikely to flee or commit additional crimes, “We’re spending money that we don’t have to spend. We’re disrupting lives that we don’t have to disrupt.”