How Cash Bail Hurts Poor African-Americans

Jail Cell


June 3, 2019 11:00AM
Cash Michaels
Cash Michaels

Since April 22nd, a bill has been pending in the NC House Rules; Calendar and Operations Committee seeking to establish a joint legislative study committee on the use of secured and unsecured appearance bonds.

Are there alternatives to requiring suspects arrested and charged with nonviolent crimes to be required to pay a cash bail to ensure not only their release from jail (all suspects are legally considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law), but also their appearance in court?

And are African Americans, Hispanics and other poor people of color at a disadvantage, compared to their well-to-do white counterparts who can afford to post cash bail, or in some cases, because they can afford good private criminal attorneys, no bail at all?

Those are the questions being asked across North Carolina and the nation, as critics are taking a serious look at what they claim is “unequal justice” when it comes to the cash bail system, and how, depending on your economic circumstances, especially if you are Black, you’re treated much differently by the criminal justice system.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina has already started a “Smart Justice” campaign to “end the unjust for-profit cash bail system that strips people of their rights, targets poor people and people of color, and hurts families and communities,” according to their campaign website.

“People who cannot afford their bail are locked up while their cases go through the courts, which can take weeks, months or even years,” the ACLU of NC Smart Justice website continued. “Those who can afford bail go free, allowing them to return to their homes, families and jobs before their trial.”

The ACLU of NC site concludes that while “…we are all supposed to be treated as innocent until proven guilty… [the cash bail system has] created two criminal justice systems: one for the rich and one for the rest of us.”

The Smart Justice site adds that the cash bail system is, “…doing nothing to make our communities safer.”

On another ACLU of North Carolina site, not only does the nonprofit legal advocacy group claim that cash bail “doesn’t work,” but that in North Carolina “…86% of the people in our jails haven’t been convicted of a crime,” adding that the system is “broken and corrupt.”

While it was no surprise when a local NC district attorney a few weeks ago, Ben David of New Hanover and Pender, held an emergency press conference to defend his office’s use of the cash bail system, saying that it “…protects this community,” the strongest pushback against any reform is coming from the bail industry, which enjoyed making $2 billion in revenue in 2018, and whose NC Bail Agents Association Political Action Committee last year gave a reported $26,000 to Republican candidates in the NC General Assembly.

In fact, according to published reports, between 2009 and 2017, North Carolina ranked second-highest in the nation when it came to political contributions from bail agents, with $148, 300 (some of that went to Democratic candidates too, the National Institute on Money in Politics reports).

Are there alternatives to locking nonviolent suspects up prior to trial?

Yes, but politically observers say they may not fly.

Part 2 next week – a look at those alternatives