Virginia residents who have been arrested may understand the financial strain paying bail puts on a family. Already dealing with the stress and worry of a potential legal judgment, trying to pull together enough money to pay for a relative’s release from jail is not always possible. A new bill being proposed in the Senate wants to move towards eliminating the financial bail system.
The bipartisan bill, the USA Today reports, would give grants to jurisdictions that want to come up with an alternative system for determining pretrial detention. The Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act is meant to change the status quo, where defendants are held in jail primarily for being unable to afford bail, which costs taxpayers $38 million each day. Bail is meant to give people an incentive to return for a court date, but studies show the opposite is actually true. Once a person has been held more than 24 hours and then released on bail they are less likely to appear in court than someone who was detained less than 24 hours.
In their New York Times op-ed, bill co-sponsors Senators Kamala Harris (D. CA) and Rand Paul (R. KY) explain that the financial bail system has kept some people locked up for years before their trial only to be found not guilty of the crime. The laws primarily affect people of color and the poor, and even a few days of detention can cost people their jobs. Longer stays have led to people losing their homes or the custody of their children. Rather than charging taxpayers $14 billion each year for pretrial detention, the bill would have defendants assessed for pretrial detention based on factors such as their risk of fleeing the jurisdiction or their danger to the community.