A Poor Defendant’s Fate: The Consequences of Failing to Post Bail

Jail TimeThe United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. In fact, there are about 2.3 million people locked up in its prisons and correctional facilities at the moment. Some experts blame a large number of people in custody on the “bail trap” — while a locked up individual could potentially search for a reputable bail bondsman in Smithfield to issue a bond so they could swiftly move on with their court proceedings, not everyone is entitled to that privilege.

Some defendants don’t have enough cash in hand to post bail, for instance, so they end up in jail before they even have a trial. This could put them at risk of losing their jobs or the life they had before getting incarcerated. In fact, the consequences they face in prison could be a lot graver than that.  

From a System of Personal Surety to Secured Bonds

Before the 19th century, the U.S. judicial system relied on personal surety. Instead of making a monetary payment, releasing the accused from jail was possible as long as they could find someone who could take responsibility for their return for trial. As the years passed, the flight risk for detainees increased and it became harder to search for willing sureties. The Courts addressed the issue by implementing a bail bond system and since then, financial resources became the crux of the matter.

With the help of a bail bond, inmates awaiting trial can secure their return for future court dates. As long as they’re present at court, they get their money back once the trial is over.

When Poor Defendants Seek an Easy Way Out

The story is different for inmates confined in jail who can’t afford to bail themselves out. In fact, statistics show that about 60-70% of defendants behind bars are, by definition, legally innocent as they await trial for their cases. The lack of money of these detainees, however, keeps them in confinement without due process.

Enduring prison life can truly be a shattering experience; others may even pay with their life. The Huffington Post conducted an investigation following the death of Sandra Bland — a woman unable to pay her $5,000 bail who allegedly hanged herself. Since her death, over 800 people have lost their lives in jail. It begs the question: would their fates have been different had they been able to go to court?

Bail Bond SystemIncreasing the Likelihood of Committing Crime

Jail deaths aren’t the only problem. Cherise Fanno Burdeen, executive director of the Pretrial Justice Institute, says exposing a low-risk person to jail conditions could increase the chance of them committing a crime in the future.

Some cells, for instance, tend to be overcrowded and detainees could witness first-hand violence or catch an infectious disease. There is always the potential for trauma during confinement and it is something even the innocent have to endure.

The Need for a Justice System Free of Discrimination

Regardless of wealth, the judicial system in the country does not always guarantee equal access to justice, as studies have shown the inherent racial bias present in the criminal justice system. On the same note, the Sentencing Project reports that judges tend to rule in favor of whites than racial minorities in pretrial proceedings. Moreover, there is a higher chance of people of color and members of low-income families receiving longer sentences.

Fundamental injustices in the judicial system exist: sometimes, freedom is only available to those of privilege. Instead of relying on an individual’s wealth or racial background, however, courts should also consider alternative approaches, such as considering an individual’s personal profile or allowing some detainees to leave under their own recognizance. It could, after all, be a matter of life and death.