As many people know, bail is a monetary figure that a person accused of a crime can pay to be released from jail while his or her trial is pending. The individual can get their bail back upon completing their trial. However, even when these bail figures are considered “low,” they are still in the thousands of dollars. That’s a significant amount of money, and many people can’t afford to pay it.
The result is an unfortunate one: many people who are arrested for minor criminal offenses or non-violent felonies end up in jail for weeks, months or even years awaiting trial. And all because our bail system is unforgiving and unyielding.
The city of New York is taking a fairly important step towards correcting the issues inherent to the bail system. Beginning next year, the city will allow judges to forgo bail in favor of a new program that would monitor low-level offenders and those charged with non-violent felonies by utilizing therapy, text messages and daily check-ins. This keeps them out of jail and gives them support to try to change their lives — without the bail system placing them in a terrible situation.
It will be interesting to see where this program goes over the course of 2016, and possibly beyond. Could this program dramatically affect the criminal justice system for the better? Could other cities, like here in Chicago, adopt a similar system to help low-level offenders and those charged with non-violent felonies to turn their lives around? We can only hope.
Source: Slate, “NYC Plan Will End Bail for Thousands of Low-Level Offenders,” Anna Diamond, July 8, 2015