Many of us know someone who has encountered the criminal justice system, and especially the difficulty of navigating this system. Imagine sitting in a cell, not due to being guilty of a crime and receiving a conviction, but you are in a jail cell because you are unable to afford bail. Your court date is scheduled for 6 weeks away. You attempt to arrange care for your children, contact your supervisor to let them know you will be missing work, and your landlord that you may be late on the rent. During this time, you lose your job. A friend, who is also a neighbor, comes to visit you and informs you that your children are safe, but there is an eviction notice on your door. What will you do?
This scenario, like many others, mirror the unintended or intended (depending on your perspective) consequences of the money bail system. Due to various media outlets, when we think of people who have been given a bail amount, we think of large numbers such as $100,000 or even $1,000,000 bail amounts and people remaining in jail because they are unable to pay 10% of those large amounts. The reality for many people is their bail can be set at a much smaller amount, but they can still be unable to afford it. If one is unable to pay the required 10%, they remain incarcerated. For instance, if bail is set at $2,000, a person would have to submit a payment of at least $200 to be released into the community. There are numerous people within the Cleveland area that are sitting in cells due to their inability to pay their bail amount.
Many of us have been in this place where financial responsibilities are at an all-time high and we do not have the capacity for another bill. One of the biggest issues facing this bail system is being forced to remain in a jail cell due to an inability to pay. Remember there’s no conviction at this time, but a person in this scenario has the ability to lose employment and housing amongst other things. Thus, the money bail system influences negative outcomes for many and disproportionately affects those experiencing poverty and communities of color.