I want to commend The Journal Gazette for the Dec. 18 editorial “Behind bars/A sharper focus on jail alternatives.” It is a welcome commentary on the abuses inflicted on many individuals who are jailed while being accused of nonviolent crimes.
According to one recent study, more than 76% of people held in jail have not been convicted of any crime, but simply cannot afford to pay cash bail. This contributes significantly to the costly overcrowding of our jails. Worse, the cash bail system destabilizes the lives of families of many innocent individuals.
Cash bail, of course, was designed for those accused of violent crimes and repeat offenders who are threats to the community and need to be kept in custody to make sure they return for trial. But cash bail can be a disaster for families without the ready cash to pay a bail bondsman's 10% fee up front, plus attorney fees.
Many American families subsist from paycheck to paycheck. They simply do not have any ready cash for unplanned expenses.
Worse, a New York City Criminal Justice Agency study showed that non-felony conviction rates soar from 50% to 92% for those jailed pretrial. People desperate to leave jail may agree to guilty-plea deals simply to return to employment as soon as possible, and earn income to support their families.
Some communities have developed working alternatives to cash bail for nonviolent offenders. Risk assessment systems have been designed to determine bail for dangerous or high-risk defendants.
A needs assessment program can help determine how to help ensure defendants show up for their court appearance. New Jersey implemented a bail reform system in 2017 that dropped the daily population of the state's jails by more than 17%.
Cash bail was imposed on only 33 out of 33,400 defendants.
The current cash bail system contributes to these problems, and is regarded by some as predatory, generating huge profits for bonding and insurance companies.
According to a report by Color of Change and the ACLU's Campaign for Smart Justice, fewer than10 companies are responsible for a significant majority of the $14 billion in bonds posted annually by for-profit bail.
As The Journal Gazette's editorial observed, the cost of jailing those who don't need to be behind bars “hardly contributes to a healthy and safe community.” It disrupts jobs, family life and housing.
As The Journal Gazette observed, “Some say the answer (to an overcrowded Allen County Jail) is building a new and much bigger jail.” But bail reform may not only be more effective, but much cheaper.
John T. Moore is a Fort Wayne resident.