By Francis Folz | United States
Criminal justice reform is often a precarious topic of American politics. Although Americans by and large recognize our criminal justice system is broken, they often dispute which solutions are best to mend our system’s innumerable quagmires. Political inaction, or worse, further detrimental actions, only exacerbate our system’s woes.
The land of the free is the home of the brave. However, it is also home to 21 percent of the world’s prison population, but only 4.4% of the world’s general population. The United States has between 3 to 4 times as many citizens behind bars in comparison to other developed nations. And what’s worse than locking citizens up for victimless crimes is that 34% of defendants are kept in jail because of their inability to post bail.
From a fiscally responsible perspective, bail reform is a no brainer. A recent study revealed that as of 2014, almost 63 percent of local jail inmates have not been convicted. That statistic is calamitous for two reasons. First, that the state assumes 60 percent of prisoners are innocent, but still detains them without a verdict. Second, housing inmates isn’t cheap. On average, the United States spends $33,000 per year for every inmate. These costs range between states, with Alabama spending nearly $15,000 per inmate and New York spending $69,000.
A majority of Americans support the idea of bail reform in a number of ways. For starters, 57% favor removing people from jails who cannot afford their bail, except in the most extreme circumstances. Furthermore, 70% of Americans believe public safety should be the deciding factor as to whether someone stays in jail before their trial or not. Clearly, Americans broadly support altering the merits of whether individuals walk free before their trial, and for good reason.
Although the concept of reforming our bail system may be new to public discussion, the concept of bail has great historical precedent. In fact, bail has been a part of the Anglo-Saxon justice system for a very long time. Our founding fathers dedicated the 8th amendment to ensure the government could not levy excessive bails against the accused. The purpose of a bail system has always been to assure the accused return to court for their trial.
Regrettably over time, combined with diminutive oversight, our bail system has transformed into a trap for lower income individuals. For example, police accused one man in New York City of possessing drug paraphernalia for merely carrying a soda and straw from the local convenience store. Although the man had a prior criminal history, all of his offenses were low-level and non-violent. Despite the man posing no threat to his community, the state set his bail at an incomprehensible 1,500 dollars. For someone who lives paycheck to paycheck, that is an absurd amount of money, especially when your crime was possessing a plastic straw.
Unfortunately, like so many other issues we currently face, our nation has strayed from the Constitution’s limitations. And as a result, we now find ourselves in a crossroads where change is necessary to avert further dilemmas. At a time when it is imperative to reign in government spending and reduce the amount of citizens behind bars, ameliorating our current system is one of America’s most rational and promising chances at bail reform.
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