It’s no secret that the criminal justice system is plagued with inequities. People of color are often charged with criminal offenses at a higher rate, and discrimination in jury selection and deliberations are very real. As maddening as that can be, there are areas of the legal system that are actively being reformed to ensure a fairer process. One area that is being heavily scrutinized and is being subjected to change in many parts of the country is the cash bail system.

How the cash bail system works

The cash bail system requires those who have been accused of a crime and are being held in pre-trial detention to pay a specified amount of money before they can be released. The thought behind the system is that the money is used as collateral to ensure that accused individuals will return to court when they are required to do so. Typically, the cash bail that has to be posted increases with the severity of the charged crime as well as a number of other factors, such as the risk that the accused individual will flee the jurisdiction. Therefore, the court oftentimes assess the individual’s ties to the community and history of evasion to determine what it considers to be an appropriate bail amount.

The problems with the cash bail system

The fact of the matter is that the cash bail system is deeply flawed. To start, it criminalizes poverty. Those who simply can’t afford to pay their bail amount are forced to sit in jail until they have their day in court. Remember, these are individuals who have merely been accused of committing a crime and have not been convicted of anything. This is just one of the many aspects of the criminal justice system that disproportionately affects minorities and people of color.

This incarceration, albeit sometimes short-lived, can wreak havoc on an individual’s life, too. It can cause him or her to lose a job or housing, and it can look bad in family law matters, which can have a negative impact on an individual’s child custody arrangement. Some studies have even shown that these pre-trial detentions can actually increase the risk that an individual will commit a criminal offense in the future. So, as you can see, there are a number of issues with the cash bail system as currently implemented.

Does cash bail even work?

While the cash bail system may be somewhat effective, studies have shown that it isn’t any more effective than policies that encourage releasing individuals on a pre-trial basis. This is especially true when accused individuals who are released on a pre-trial basis are provided with a card with their next court date, transportation fees, and even childcare. Therefore, critics say, there’s really no justification for the continued implementation of the cash bail system. Many jurisdictions, such as those in New Jersey and Washington, D.C. have eliminated their cash bail systems with positive results.

What about Kansas City?

The sad truth of the matter is that jurisdictions across Missouri, including here in Kansas City, continue to utilize the cash bail system. As disheartening as that may be, remember that there are arguments that you can make to try to reduce your bail amount or obtain pre-trial release. To make those arguments, though, you have to understand the factors that the court is going to assess and how to persuasively argue your position. Although that may be daunting as you’re trying to figure out how to navigate your criminal defense, an attorney who is well-versed in this arena can support you and provide you with the advocacy that you deserve.