Sanders introduces legislation ending ‘money bail’

The money bail system disproportionately affects Black and low-income communities, making money record profits for bail bonds businesses.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation Wednesday to end money bail, which would prevent people from being locked up before trial solely because they cannot afford their bail. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) has introduced a companion bill in the House.

Sen. Bernie Sanders

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world and nearly a quarter of all people imprisoned on any given day, disproportionately Black, Latinx, and Native American, are ‘unconvicted,’ meaning they are sitting in jail waiting for a trial, plea bargain or conclusion to their case. Hundreds of thousands of the ‘unconvicted’ population are in jail simply because they could not afford their bail.

In introducing his bill Sanders said: “Poverty is not a crime and hundreds of thousands of Americans, convicted of nothing, should not be in jail today because they cannot afford cash bail. In the year 2018, in the United States, we should not continue having a ‘debtor prison’ system. Our destructive and unjust cash bail process is part of our broken criminal justice system and must be ended.”

“The money bail system is irrational and dangerous. People who are not at high risk but are poor remain incarcerated, while people who may be dangerous are set free if they have the funds. It’s maddening to see that those with money can buy their freedom while poor defendants languish behind bars while awaiting trial,” Lieu said. “I’m grateful Sen. Sanders is introducing a bill that moves to end our justice system’s reliance on money bail. I previously introduced legislation in the House that addresses this issue and I look forward to working with Senator Sanders. The money bail system warrants sustained outrage because America should never be a nation where freedom is based on cash on hand.”

Sanders’ bill, The No Money Bail Act of 2018, would formally end the use of secured bonds in federal criminal proceedings, provide grants to states that wish to implement alternate pretrial systems to reduce their pretrial detention population and withholds grant funding from states that continue to use money bail systems. It would also require a study three years after implementation to ensure the new alternate systems are also not leading to disparate detention rates.

The U.S. spends nearly $14 billion each year locking people up without a conviction. Cities and states could save substantial amounts of money by ending cash bail systems. It costs $75 a day to detain someone but only $7 to supervise them in the community. Additionally, for-profit companies make a fortune off poor defendants. The for-profit bail industry makes well over a billion dollars each year, with the United States being one of only two countries in the world that even allows for-profit bond companies.

Sanders’ legislation is supported by the ACLU and Color of Change.

ACLU endorses Senate Bail Reform Bill
The ACLU announced its support of the No Money Bail Act, introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). This bill serves as the Senate companion to H.R. 1437, the No Money Bail Act, introduced by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) in the House and reflects continued efforts in the Congress to eliminate money bail systems.

The No Money Bail Act bans the use of cash bail at the federal level and incentivizes states to end their money bail systems.

Kanya Bennett, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, had the following response: “Cash bail keeps close to half a million people in jail before trial because they can’t afford to pay. It criminalizes poverty, disproportionately impacts people of color, and entrenches thousands of Americans in an unjust and unfair system. The only winners of the cash bail system are bail agents and their insurance backers who profit between one to two billion dollars a year.

“Ending cash bail is essential to reforming our broken criminal justice system, which is why the ACLU is glad to see another bail reform bill introduced in the Congress. By requiring and incentivizing alternative pretrial practices, and ensuring that we better understand the impact of cash bail and pretrial detention on communities of color and other marginalized people, the No Money Bail Act is an essential step forward. We encourage all senators who believe in systemic criminal justice reform to support federal efforts around bail reform.”