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Bail Fail: Why the U.S. Should End the Practice of Using Money for Bail

NCJ Number
Melissa Neal
Date Published
September 2012
56 pages
This report by the Justice Policy Institute investigates the practice of using money for bail in the U.S. criminal justice system.
This report, compiled by the Justice Policy Institute, examines the problems that arise from the use of money alone as a mechanism for obtaining pretrial release. The authors assert that the use of money as the primary mechanism for bail distorts the criminal justice system, with over 60 percent of the U.S. jail population being composed of individuals being held in detention because they are unable to raise the funds necessary for obtaining bail. The report analyzes the use of money for bail in the pretrial justice system, presenting an overview of the pretrial process. This analysis is followed by a discussion on the issues that surround the use of money as the primary mechanism for bail. These issues include the disproportionate impact on certain communities, loss of liberty for individuals unable to raise the necessary funds, and the link between using money for bail and the practice of plea-bargaining by prosecutors. This section is followed by a look at more effective, cost-saving practices that could be used in place of money for bail. These alternatives include the use of valid risk assessments, the use of citations in place of arresting and transporting individuals, the release of individuals back into the community on their own recognizance while awaiting trial, and the use of conditional release. The final section of the report contains recommendations for improving the pretrial release system: eliminate money bail, ban for-profit bail bonding companies, include the voices of all involved parties, expand community education programs, use citations instead of arrest and transport, use standardized risk assessments, and implement measures of pretrial detention and release services to evaluate current programs and practices. References and endnotes