Tag Archives: Bail reform

OPINION | Bail, Ransom, Wealth Transfer, and Real Community Safety

by Sadé A. Smith

Inequitable bail laws allow bail companies to extort the poor for the little wealth they have. By working as a proxy for the courts’ cash bail system, bail companies are allowed to engage in extreme wealth transfers in exchange for your freedom. In reality, the U.S. legal system has normalized ransoms. Here’s how it works: If you are charged with a crime but not convicted, the court has the option to set bail. If you can’t afford to post bail, you are stuck in jail pretrial, despite being presumed innocent until proven guilty. You are caged until your case resolves. This process can take years. The courts make their determination based on the statements of police and charges determined by prosecutors. You have no way to refute these frequently baseless allegations. The court presumes the police are telling the truth, despite mountains of evidence that police lie in reports regularly. To obtain your freedom, you must pay the full amount to the court or pay 10% to 15% of the bond ordered by the court to a bail company. The bail company pays the full amount and will be reimbursed once the case resolves. In short, you exchange your limited resources for your freedom. The bail company keeps the 10% to 15% you paid no matter what, even if they are fully reimbursed by the court. They also secure collateral for the full amount. If you fail to appear in court (at times for any reason), and the court forfeits your bond, the bond company keeps your 10% to 15% and can collect on the collateral you signed over in exchange for your freedom. In any other circumstance, a contract leveraging your freedom in exchange for money would be null and void, but the criminal legal system allows it. Already economically depressed families have lost homes, vehicles, and other property as a result. In a disparate system that we know is racist, the central question should be, what about having money makes you safer for the community?

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