Monday, June 22, 2015

When you get arrested, bail is set and seems to help only rich people. We have become so used to it. It sounds like a simple system but it only benefits rich people. If you are charged with a crime the court may ask for an amount of money as bond that will be returned to you once you show up for your trial.  If you have the money it is no big deal but if you don’t have the money as a possibly innocent person you can immediately be thrown in jail with convicted criminals till your trial which could be months away.

For example, say you are arrested for driving with a suspended license, yes a paperwork problem. The court set bail at $1,000 and your choice is to pay it or wait for your trial in Riker’s Island a maximum security prison. So you don’t have the money. You go to jail even though you pose no threat to society.  Let’s look at the now famous life of the rich millionaire Robert Durst who has been accused of murder in Texas. He had a completely different bail experience. He was told that bail was set at $250,000 because he does pose a threat to society. Mr. Durst simply said,   ”Good-bye money and good bye jail.”  

The problem with all this is that the frequency and the cost of bail has risen dramatically and is disproportionately hurting the poor. In 2013 an analysis of New Jersey’s jail population found that 38% of the total population were being held solely due to the inability to meet the terms of bail. This is crazy! Jail is supposed to be for dangerous criminals not for poor people. What is a poor person’s choices? Many do sit in jail till their trial but that poses even more consequences to their lives and families. Poor people have low earning jobs where if you are absent, you are fired. Poor people live in shelters or transitional housing so that if you are not there for the night, your place is gone. So now the poor person with just a suspended licence who doesn’t have $1,000 has now become jobless and homeless while trying to stay alive in a maximum security prison for about 2 months.
If you are in jail for even just a short while, it can destroy your life. The only other option if you are poor is to plead GUILTY even if you are not. The option there is “plead GUILTY and you are out wait to plead your innocence and you are in jail.” Poor people are regularly choosing to plead GUILTY just to get out of the court house. Now they are guilty of a crime that perhaps they did not commit. That follows your record for the rest of your life now. Now on any new job application you have to check off Yes to the question, “Have   you ever been convicted to a crime?”  Yes, now you have to admit that you are some sort of criminal.

The final option is to hire those crazy wild bail bondsmen. Now these guys promise to pay your bail to the court and in exchange you pay them 10-15% of your bail amount. They will keep their fee regardless of how   your trial goes. So if your bail was set at $5,000 dollars, you have to pay the bail bondsman $750 dollars for doing absolutely nothing. If you don’t show up for your trial then the bail bondsmen hire bounty hunters. The law allows these thugs to do whatever they want to catch you including crossing state lines and breaking laws. There are 18 states where in theory anyone can become a bail recovery agent regardless of education, training or prior criminal record. Now there is the nut job bounty hunter looking for   you too.

  The answer to this mess is to stop watching bail hunting shows on TLC,  The Learning Channel where you learn nothing but get to see humans hunting humans. Often bounty hunters stalk and harm innocent people that never had a bail problem. The answer is to revamp our bail system. Set bail only if you can afford it. There is no reason why the courts can’t give ankle monitors, or call people to remind them of their trial dates once they have determined you are not a danger to society.  We need a system of communication for pre- trial situations. 

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