Denouncing America's "Debtor Prison" System, Sanders Introduces Bill to End Cash Bail
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Cash Bail System: How the US Punishes the Poor for Being Poor (VIDEO)

The cash bail system currently in use in the US has evolved into a monster that perpetuates poverty and inequality, rather than being a corrective measure.

Prisons for debtors were abolished in the United States in 1833. However, it still persists in the form of the cash bail system – a system where people remain perpetually incarcerated until they can pay money to regain freedom.

Today, 185 years following the prohibition of debtors’ prisons, America continues to punish poor offenders with unwarranted incarceration.

Denouncing America's "Debtor Prison" System, Sanders Introduces Bill to End Cash Bail
Denouncing America’s “Debtor Prison” System, Sanders Introduces Bill to End Cash Bail. Image Source: Common Dreams

Cash Bail System: Should You Be Punished for Being Poor?

The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution requires that all Americans be treated equal, regardless of their economic levels.

Sadly, the US justice system doesn’t allow for this. The rich are respected under the law. But the poor are punished for being poor.

In America, the rich can bail themselves out for minor offenses while the poor remain incarcerated for weeks and months, just because they can’t raise enough cash for their own bail.

As they sit in jails waiting for court dates and trials, they lost their jobs and possibly their families. Those who are set free, come home to nothing – having to start over from scratch.

US Cash Bail System: Racially Discriminate to the Poor

Prison reform advocates insist that it is socially evil for anyone to buy his way out of jail. Justice cannot be truly served in any society when a wad of dollars determines if an individual is jailed or not.

Funny enough, there are now private bail bond agents who loan jailed offenders money for bail – a sort of payday loan if you like.

Of course, Prison Policy Initiative does not find anything funny in detaining the poor. Adding cash bail perpetuates jail time and creates an endless cycle of poverty.

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The American cash bail system is not just a surefire way for poor offenders to die in jail, but is also racially-discriminatory. Several studies reveal that:

  • Blacks are incarcerated more for offenses that Whites are released for in the US.
  • Hispanics and other minorities suffer the same fate

It is no surprise why the population of Blacks in US jails and prisons triple the amount of incarcerated whites. That considered, is it any wonder then that most inmates that die in prison are Black?

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Or even that most of the deceased black inmates were not convicted for the charges leveled against them, but only for being unable to pay for cash bail?

When hundreds of black people are dying and withering in jails for minor infractions that whites walk for, how does this fulfill the American Dream promised in our constitution?

A Mechanism for Extortion, Incarceration, and Prison Death

This system, is in fact, an extortionary system for milking the poor and keeping them indefinitely imprisoned. The government is more or less using money bail as a mechanism for incarceration where they are not able to cater to the welfare of the poor.

The United States has some of the worst records any nation can bear, including the highest number of:

  • Black citizens dying in police custody
  • Offenders dying while being transported to police stations
  • Police-related killings
  • White police officers shooting Black unarmed teens
  • Prison suicides and deaths

And arguably worst of all, America has the highest rates of recidivism. In America, a released prisoner may land in jail anytime again for minor infractions (such as a missed appointment with a parole officer).

A 2015 study listed up to 1,000 names of people who have died in US jails and prisons:

  • More than 75% of these were not convicted of their charges
  • About 70% of these were awaiting trial for bailable offenses
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Apart from the fact that The US criminal justice system is biased against Blacks, most of those that died in jails were not able to post bonds due to extreme poverty.

Many of the accused who died at the hands of law enforcement died because they had health issues, which jail officials chose to ignore while they remained in custody.

Video: #DecriminalizePoverty – Here’s the Problem With the Cash Bail System

In America, being poor is a crime. And the US cash bail system is proof of that. It perpetuates poverty. This makes it impossible for the non-rich to remain free as they help fight their own cases during trials. 

Watch the YouTube video below for more information on how the cash bail system is hurting people in the US.

Taxpayers Pay the Costs of Unnecessary Incarceration for Poor Offenders

Flozell Daniels Jr., CEO and president of Foundation for Louisiana, co-authored a book titled From Bondage to Bail Bonds: Putting a Price on Freedom in New Orleans.

It reveals that Blacks pay 85% of the total $6.4 million revenue generated from cash bail system in New Orleans every year. Many of these people are only accused of minor misdemeanors that a court of competent jurisdiction may exonerate them of in the end. 

The book authors wrote:

Money bail ensnares people in a system in which one’s freedom hangs on the ability to pay and removes people who are important to their families and communities.

The money paid to secure a person’s freedom is not available for other essentials, thus over-burdening family and community support structures.

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To make matters worse, individuals risk losing their jobs and housing when spending their days in jails and cannot buy their freedom with cash. While these poor folks nurse the fear of abandonment after release from jail, the remaining incarcerated receive:

  • Mental torture
  • Emotional trauma
  • Physical degradation
  • Not to mention violence

Since the poor are damned already, posting bail does not immune them from re-arrest when they slip in any unintentional way.

The more the US government jails poor offenders, the more it widens the economic gap between the poor and the rich. Unfortunately, jailing poor offenders for minor misdemeanors does not only perpetuate inequality.

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Instead, it burdens taxpayers with vicariously footing the bills for prison systems. Taxpayers who do not even have any close friends or relatives in jails and prisons end up paying millions of dollars annually to uphold the criminal justice system.

This situation may be avoided by entirely abolishing the discriminatory cash bail system.

California Abolishes Cash Bail System: What Others Can Learn from This

There are efforts by celebrities, such as Jay-Z, to help indigent offenders to raise money for bail. They do this by creating or investing in tech apps such as:

  1. Promise
  2. Help Bond Me

Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Invests Heavily in Promise; an App which Promises to Improve the Criminal Justice System

Promise provides detainees with bail funds while Help Bond Me provides a crowdfunding platform where donors give money for bails. These celebrities, among other philanthropists and prison reform pressure groups, should be commended for their initiatives against America’s harsh cash bail system.

But the country is better without it to begin with.

California has become the first US state to abolish cash bail for minor offenders. This came to pass after 40 years of legal wrangling. But it is nevertheless here and becomes fully effective in October, 2019.

According to the California Court of Appeals, cash bail is offensive and unconstitutional. California Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Money Bail Reform Act into law in August of this year.

He stated that this is important for the poor and the rich to be treated equally and fairly when it comes to the US jail system.

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Charles Omedo
Charles Omedo has a degree in Mass Communication and a PGD in Digital Communication. He worked as a newspaper/magazine reporter and editor for many years. Now, he writes daily news articles for private clients. Charles has written for US/UK/Canadian/Indian clients on various niches. He currently writes prison news for loved ones of inmates on the Prison Rideshare Network.