Bail Bonds & Jail Wrongs
Who Deserves Justice?
Innocent until proven guilty. Presumption of innocence has been a guiding principal in the American criminal legal system ever since the Founding Fathers pondered notions of justice in Philly. As such, anyone who is arrested, charged with a crime and booked awaits trial in jail. During this time a bail bond is set, which leads to three outcomes. Outcome number one: bail is paid, person is released until trial. Outcome number two: person cannot afford bail, remains incarcerated. Outcome number three: person is a flight risk or a public safety risk, gets denied bail and stays incarcerated.
Locking up the Poor
Seems fair, right? In actuality, cash bail is most effective at keeping poor people detained. Ergo the preponderance of people booked land in category two.
Even more damning is the fact that women, specifically Hispanic and Black women are the least likely to be able to afford bail. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the median cash bail amount for felonies nationwide is set at $10,000. Yet, the median pre-incarceration income of women is just $11,071. How could anyone justify spending 8 months’ income on bail? What would be left over to pay for legal fees, rent, food, childcare or transportation? Not to mention lost wages from work absence.
The Damon Allen Act
Last fall, Texas Senate Bill 6 colloquially known as the “Damon Allen Act,” (to honor the sheriff’s deputy who was fatally assaulted during a 2017 traffic stop-the perpetrator was released on $15k bail) was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott, Rep. The bill requires people accused of violent crimes to pay cash in order to make bail. Prior to SB6, people charged with minor crimes in Texas could make bail in exchange for non-monetary agreements, such as agreeing to wear an ankle monitor or doing routine drug testing. Under the new bill this type of personal recognizance bond (PR bond) can no longer be used as collateral.
Bill Proponents & Opponents
Proponents of the bill claim that it will improve public safety by keeping violent offenders away from innocent civilians. Governor Abbot was quoted saying: “this law will reform our broken bail system and help keep our communities safe.” This sentiment was echoed by Senator Paul Bettencourt, Rep. who said: “People were being released like popcorn on PR bonds, and they ended up killing somebody. We've got to realign the scales of justice to where we're not releasing the same, you know, violent criminal element back on the streets.”
Opponents emphatically disagree. The most common claims made by opposition are that cash requirements will “exacerbate wealth-based detention, penalize low-income people, limit judicial power, lead to overfilled jails and boost the bail-bond industry” (Texas Tribune).
“Cash bail has nothing to do with public safety. All it means is that if you have resources, you have money, you can pay your way out of custody, and if you're poor, you sit in jail.” -Carson White, attorney at Texas Appleseed
Although SB6 is not explicitly aimed at one gender, it will disproportionately affect low-income women. Men of color will be affected as well, albeit to a lesser degree. The abundance of low-skill, low-wage jobs held by women, gender wage gap, single-income homes, hyper-scrutinization and subsequent criminalization of women of color, domestic violence, etc. are all factors that contribute to the vulnerability of females in this country. Coupled with rising incarceration rates, it is undeniable that SB6 will hit poor women hardest.
The bail-bond industry is a for profit scheme that leaches off the most vulnerable members of our society. SB6 stigmatizes people before they even have a chance to get a fair trial. The gap between men and women, wealthy and poor, incarcerated and free will continue to widen until the chasm cannot be bridged. SB6 just made that distance a little wider.