Bernie Sanders is promoting a bill introduced last Wednesday, which would end the practice of using cash bail at the federal level and encourage states to follow suit.
Called the No Money Bail Act, the bill would end the use of secured bonds in federal criminal proceedings. The Root reports that the legislation recommends providing grants to states that ‘implement alternate pretrial systems and reduce their pretrial detention population.’
States that refuse to cooperate would have some grant funds withheld by the federal government.
“In the mist of a broken criminal justice system, what is totally insane is that you’ve got around 400,000 people—perhaps 20 percent of people in jails today—in jail for the crime of being poor. That’s their crime,” Sanders told The Root. “We should not in the year of 2018 be locking up hundreds of thousands of people who have been convicted of nothing.”
The American Bail Coalition derided the effort as nonsensical, noting that guaranteed cash bail is largely nonexistent at the federal level. An article on the ABC’s website claims that pretrial incarceration rates have, in fact, increased as no-money policies became prevalent in federal courts.
Opponents of cash-bail systems say the impoverished are primarily affected by the practice. Low-income detainees—even those arrested for petty offenses—can spend days languishing in jails due to an inability to pay bail or negotiate with bond brokers.
Sanders’ bill accompanies a similar initiative in the House, designed by California Rep. Ted Lieu. The Guardian says that Lieu’s bill has 33 co-sponsors, while Sanders has yet to drum up any significant support within the Senate.
The Guardian recounts how several high-profile bail cases have highlighted the inequality inherent to the system. A protester in Baltimore, for instance, had bail set at $500,000 after turning himself in to face misdemeanor charges. Another man, Kalief Browder, killed himself after being held at Rikers Island without a trial for three years.
Browder, writes The Root, was accused of stealing a backpack. He languished on Rikers for three years, with half his incarceration spent in solitary confinement. Browder claims to have been assaulted by gang members and staff alike.
Prosecutors didn’t have a case against Browder, whose bail was set at $3,000—an amount the African-American teenager couldn’t afford to pay. The charges were eventually dismissed and Browder was released.
In 2015, Browder, traumatized, hung himself at his mother’s home.
Sanders said the $2 billion cash-bail industry poses a problem for many inmates across the country, especially people of color.
“You know and I know that, in a disproportionate matter, people behind bars are black, they are Latino, they are Native American. Disproportionately. But this is also race and economics merged together on this issue,” Sanders said. “The reason people are in jail and they can’t afford their bail is because they are poor. So yeah, you can argue this is a race issue. It disproportionately affects minorities. That’s true. But it’s also an economic issue in a sense that if you are a poor white person, you’re gonna be in the same position.”
The Root suggests a closer pairing of the two issues than Sanders himself—it notes how a U.S. Department of Justice Investigation found that Ferguson, MO, pursued a policy of racial profiling that led to millions of dollars being made from traffic tickets and other legal fees.