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Money-based bail system: Does it need to be reformed?

In recent years, certain aspects of the criminal justice system have been scrutinized and investigated based on arguments that they are discriminatory and ineffective. These arguments are based, at least partially, on statistics that suggest that minorities and people living in low-income areas are being unfairly targeted and arrested by police.

One such area that is coming under fire for being unfair and discriminatory is the money-based bail system.

Currently, people who are accused of a crime will go through a court hearing that will determine whether they will be released or held in jail until their trial. There are three potential outcomes.

  1. A person could be held without bail
  2. Bail will be established
  3. A person will be released on personal recognizance

It is the second outcome that is being challenged. According to reports, too many people are paying an unfair price for not being able to afford bail because those who cannot afford bail must stay in jail until their trial.

The problem with this is that the people who cannot afford bail are being detained for crimes for which they have not been convicted. Further, there are instances when bail amounts are set not on the basis of the person or the crime, but rather on the intent to just detain a person.

The cycle that results can be devastating. Not being able to pay bail means a person will have to sit in jail, making it impossible for them to work. Without work, legitimate income cannot be earned and future job prospects can be bleak. Once a person does get out of jail, he or she can be financially desperate.

Proponents for change say that many of the millions of people behind bars because they cannot make bail are neither dangerous nor at risk for fleeing. They argue that using money is ineffective and should only be used for bail as a "last resort." 

Until and unless changes are made in Florida, unfortunately, people can still get stuck in a system that puts more emphasis on locking people up than on helping them to change their lives for the better. For now, people facing charges can work with an attorney to try and seek lower bail amounts or negotiate release terms that allow them to minimize the damage of being charged with a criminal offense.

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Jason Rogozinski

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