Great Ideas: Fixing the Broken, Backwards Bail System

The system of paying cash bail is so familiar to us in this country that it’s faded into the background of our awareness. But in recent years, reform advocates have been sounding the alarm about the disastrous consequences of a system that is profoundly broken: more damaged lives, more economic ruin, and ironically, more crime. In fact, the practice of assigning cash bail as a condition of an individual’s pretrial release has led to a two-tiered system of justice. People with money can return to their communities while they await trial, while those without money are forced to choose between remaining incarcerated—and facing the harms that accompany pretrial detention—and entering into a predatory contract with a commercial bail company to obtain release.

Rachael Eisenberg is the Senior Director of Criminal Justice Reform at American Progress, where she leads the organization’s efforts to shrink the footprint of the criminal justice system and promote justice and safety.