Report: Cash bail discriminates against low-income people and people of color
A new report finds stark disparities in the impacts of cash bail in Michigan, which disproportionately keeps low-income residents and Michiganders of color in jail.
The study, from the Michigan League for Public Policy, noted it is common practice in Michigan to require people who've been arrested but are awaiting trial to put up cash in exchange for their temporary release.
Peter Ruark, senior policy analyst for the League and the report's author, said when people are unable to pay their bail, it can have major consequences.
"That creates hardship for families," Ruark said. "It can cause people to lose their jobs. It can complicate relations with relatives."
Nationally, the report said the median income for people unable to post bail is about $15,000 a year. And median bond amounts are roughly $10,000 higher for Black defendants than for their white counterparts.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a package of bills to reform the cash-bail system, and Ruark pointed out most of the opposition comes from the cash-bail industry itself.
Eli Savit, Washtenaw County prosecutor, took office in January and stopped seeking cash bail. He said judges and magistrates still can impose it, but his office aims to impose non-monetary conditions for releasing people pretrial instead.
He argued it should not matter what your bank account looks like, but what you have been arrested for, and if you pose a threat to the community.
"Getting rid of cash bail does not mean that we're opening up the jailhouse doors and letting everybody free," Savit explained. "It means that the decision about whether you need to stay in jail before trial, before you've been convicted, is based on what you're accused of doing and the danger that you pose, not based on how much money you have."
The report also noted extended jail stays due to inability to post bail can severely impact people's mental health. National data during the 2010s showed more than 70% of people who died by suicide in jail were not convicted with a crime at the time of their death.
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