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"Give Us Free": Addressing Racial Disparities in Bail Determinations

NCJ Number
Legislation and Public Policy Volume: 16 Dated: February 2014 Pages: 919-962
Cynthia E. Jones
Date Published
February 2014
44 pages
This article discusses the widespread and well-documented racial disparities in the bail determination process and recommends policy reforms to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in pretrial detention.
Part I discusses the limited constitutional restrictions on bail; the Federal and State laws that govern bail determinations; and the divergent and dysfunctional bail-determination practices in State courts across the Nation. Part II reviews the extensive body of research that confirms African-Americans are routinely subjected to harsher treatment in the bail process than White defendants charged with similar crimes, with similar backgrounds, and similar criminal histories. Part III features the work of the criminal justice officials in Saint Louis County (Duluth), Minnesota, in addressing racial disparities in bail decisions in their local courts. Representatives from law enforcement, the court, and the community have constructed a holistic approach to addressing the problems of the bail process. This approach involves training, monitoring, and continuing data collection in order to ensure that bail decisions are fair and consistent across the race/ethnicity of defendants. Part IV of this article draws on the work done in Duluth in proposing additional policy reforms that can be implemented in order to eliminate the arbitrariness and lack of accountability in bail decisions that contribute to racial disparities. The article proposes the creation of a permanent bail oversight committee that would be composed of representatives of each agency involved in the bail determination process. This committee should receive regular reports on the bail determinations made by every bail official. At a minimum, these reports should include information on the number of defendants released, the number of defendants detained, the number of defendants held on money bonds, the factual basis for each bail determination, and the race of each defendant. 181 notes