Sunday, April 22, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 7

Santa Maria Sun / Letter To The Editor

The following article was posted on June 14th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 15 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 15

We need prison bail reform

By Liz Fitzgerald - Standing Up for Racial Justice

As a kid, growing up in a middle-class family in California, the only time I was ever upset about the state of the criminal justice system was while playing the board game Monopoly and drawing the disappointing card that states: “Go directly to jail—do not pass Go, do not collect $200.” If you had a little bit of play money on hand, you could begrudgingly bail yourself out for $50 on your next turn—no big deal. Getting out of jail is easy in Monopoly, but it’s a lot more complicated in real life. No one in my nuclear family has ever been to jail in real life, and so even as a privileged, white, college-educated adult, I remained ignorant for many years about the harsh reality of money bail.

In California, the median bail amount for those who are sent to jail is 1,000 times as much as it is in Monopoly at a whopping $50,000—a sum that most individuals and families cannot afford. This leaves a person with two primary options: You can either sit in jail awaiting trial for months, potentially, whether you’re guilty or not, or ask a bail bondsman to front the full amount in exchange for a 10 percent payment. This fee is not refunded even if the person is found innocent, and is simply unaffordable for most working class folks.

While our current money bail system is catastrophic for those with limited financial resources, it also disproportionately impacts people of color with bail amounts for black men averaging 35 percent higher than for white men. This is only one of many ways that the criminal justice system at large has a much greater negative impact on our black and brown friends and neighbors. In addition, the money bail system also has a detrimental impact on all of us taxpayers. In the U.S., we spend $14 billion a year locking up people who have not been convicted of a crime. This is enough to pay 300,000 firefighters or provide free and reduced lunch to 31 million kids. If California were to reform its bail system where 60 percent of people in jails are awaiting trial or sentencing, the funds recovered could be used for other crucial causes such as education, better roads, and community programs.

Though the state of things is bleak, there is good news! A coalition of community-based organizations along with state representatives are responding to this financial and ethical crisis by sponsoring two bills—one that will reform the money bail system (SB 10) and a related piece of legislation that will end the automatic lengthening of sentences for those with prior drug convictions (the RISE Act). Both of these bills are moving quickly, both passed in the state Senate recently, thus marking an important benchmark victory for bail reform.

On a national scale, the Trump administration has made clear that it intends to move quickly and aggressively to roll back the progress we’ve made on criminal justice issues in recent years and take us even further backward. As Californians, believing in a society where all people should be treated with dignity, kindness, and respect, we must act to oppose Trump’s dangerous policies and make our state a model for the nation when it comes to our legal system.

I urge you all to educate yourselves about the impacts of money bail, and to tell your legislators to support both the RISE Act and the Money Bail Reform Act. Together, let’s take a step in right direction for justice and equality in California!

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