Every day of 2016, New York City held an average of 7,633 people in jail for pretrial detention. Pretrial detention means that these are people who have yet to be convicted of any crime, and who are, in one of our criminal justice system’s most important stipulations, presumed innocent. The United States is setting a new precedent for its civilians. If you’re poor, you get to face time in the slammer for the crime of not being able to post bail. Whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty?” Because 3800 of New York’s jailed people are behind bars for one reason:
They don’t have enough money.
3800 of those jailed in New York do not have sufficient funds to make bail. Many of these defendants are held despite being accused of low-level, non-violent offenses like drug use. They’re held despite the fact that “pretrial detention disrupts people’s ability to work, pay rent, and take care of their families, and drastically increases the chances that one will be found guilty of a crime.” They’re held even though many may well be innocent, and many of those who are guilty pose no real risk to their community. And the tax payer gets to cover the expenses for these people who are presumably still innocent.
The New York Times detailed how these are not isolated events either, and that freedom is being systematically removed from Americans for no good reason. “In our society,” the Supreme Court has determined that, “liberty is the norm, and detention prior to trial or without trial is the carefully limited exception.” Yet across America, poor people are locked up for the crime of not being able to afford bail. Cash bail has become nothing more than a scam used to generate revenue to a failing state.
Detaining people simply because they cannot buy their freedom is unjust and unnecessary.