At first thought, bail seems like a great provision for those who are accused of a crime. “All you have to do is pay some money and you get out of jail? What’s not to like?” But, of course, if you extend that first thought to a second, third, or fourth thought, the flaws of the bail system will immediately become clear.
Bail is a dollar amount (if it is awarded in a criminal case) that can be paid by the party accused of the crime in question. If that person can pay his or her bail, then they are released from jail while they await trial. Far too often, though, the accused individual can’t afford bail — and that leads to many low-level offenders dealing with harsh treatment during extended stays in prison until they get their day in court.
This has produced horrifying stories, such as the one where a 16-year-old who spent three years in jail (most in solitary confinement) because he allegedly stole a backpack. Unable to pay his $3,000 bail, he languished in jail until he finally got out. Two years later, he committed suicide.
Such is the torture and inhumanity of the bail system. Many people can’t afford their bail, and so minor offenses leave people in jail cells for months, or even years, at a time. And for what? A stolen backpack? A street drug deal? These offenses, though illegal, shouldn’t damn a person to years in a jail cell. Our system is inefficient, and bail only amplifies the severity of the matter.
New York City is trying to correct this, as they will implement a new system next year that eliminates bail (when judge’s allow it). Instead, the accused individual will be placed in a program that supervises them via text message alerts, daily meetings and behavior an/or drug therapy to help them.
Source: Slate, “NYC Plan Will End Bail for Thousands of Low-Level Offenders,” Anna Diamond, July 8, 2015