From the #unconvicted series. Photo by David Y. Lee
Last week attorneys for the six officers charged in connection with the death of Freddie Gray claimed, according to an article in the Baltimore Sun, the money they still owe to bail bondsmen as a condition of their pre-trail release is a “lingering injustice.” This week, the Sun published a sharp editorial that agreed, taking the opportunity to point out that thousands of average citizens face this kind of injustice each year.
The officers are “absolutely right,” the editorial maintains, to think the debt they had to assume in order to make bail is unfair. It’s just as unfair, the piece continues, when this kind of thing happens to ordinary people too. Every day across Baltimore, defendants are forced to choose between taking on insurmountable debt by agreeing to pay a bail bondsman or sitting in jail for days–sometimes weeks or months–without ever being charged.
Those who remain behind bars because they can’t come up with money risk losing jobs, housing, even custody of their children. Those who can pay–often by asking loved ones for help–face years of debilitating debt as they struggle to meet monthly payments.
“The issue is not whether it’s unjust that these six officers are forced to pay bail bondsmen $25,000 to $35,000 as a result of their pre-trail release. It’s whether Maryland’s cash bail system is unjust, period.”
OSI-Baltimore’s Criminal and Juvenile Justice Program recognizes that the cash bail system unfairly penalizes the poor for their economic status by using money rather than risk assessment to determine a defendant’s pre-trial freedom. We support programs that aim to reform pre-trial detention policies to reduce Baltimore City’s pre-trial detention population. The program supports efforts to investigate and promote effective alternatives to arrests including creating and implementing objective, validated risk assessment tools.
In July, with the help of the Pretrial Justice Institute, OSI hosted #unconvicted, a photo exhibit documenting the plight of pre-trail detainees. The event marked the beginning of a years-long campaign by OSI and others that will focus on changing the law in Maryland from a cash-based system to a risk-based system.