Forcing people awaiting trial to pay bail in order to get out jail is, to say the least, a flawed way of pursuing justice. The accused or their family can be required to put down money in order to return home as they await a trial (which can take months, years, or never even happen)—which in practice has disproportionately hurt communities that are low-income (because they struggle to come up with the necessary funds) and black (who see higher rates of jail time, like other communities of color). The deaths of Sandra Bland, Jeffrey Pendleton, and Kalief Browder—all of whom were black and remained unable to post bail after being arrested—have publicized how so many Americans are unable to get out of jail because of bail requirements. And yet, despite the well-documented inequalities and flaws in the system, and the increasing pressure to change it, “money bail,” as the practice is called, remains the norm in the American legal system, propping up a thriving for-profit bail-bonds industry.
It’s no wonder that so many low-income people awaiting trial have to turn to a bail-bonds operation. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit, black men and women ages 23 to 39 who were being held in local jails had median earnings of between $568 and $900 the month prior to their arrest. The median bail for a felony arrest, meanwhile, is $10,000, a sum most arrested individuals and their families would simply be unable to pay. On top of that, black defendants between the ages of 18 and 29 years old were asked to pay, on average, higher sums for bail and were less likely to be released on their own recognizance, meaning no bail payment was required.