New York, NY – With Congress set to finally take action on criminal justice reform on Monday, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today stood with Reverend Al Sharpton, Geoffrey Eaton, 1st Vice President NAACP New York State Conference, and other community leaders and criminal justice reform advocates to say there’s more work to be done and called on Congress to pass legislation to end the current federal cash bail system that disproportionately results in low-income people of color being locked up even if they have not yet been convicted of a crime.
“The cash bail system in our country is discriminatory and a disaster,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “If you’ve been accused of a crime – just accused – you might have to wait in jail for months, or even longer, before you get to have your trial and tell your side of the story. There are thousands of New Yorkers sitting in jail right now simply because they cannot pay their bail. We should not be locking people up just because they don’t have the financial means to afford their bail. I’m calling on Congress to solve this problem once and for all and pass legislation that would finally get rid of our cash bail system at the federal level, and push all 50 states to do the same.”
In New York and across the country, the cash bail system results in incarceration where income levels can determine whether or not individuals are able to be released from jail. Hundreds of thousands of people in jails across the U.S. have not yet been convicted of a crime and are waiting for a trial. People who cannot pay their bail, which can range from $1,000 to $5000 on average in New York City, are forced to either sit in jail for days, months, or even years, pay exorbitant fees to a bail bondsman, or plead guilty and give up their right to defend themselves at trial. According to a study published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, people of color are more likely to be assigned monetary bail and on average assigned to pay higher bail amounts than their white counterparts. According to the ACLU, the for-profit bail industry makes between $1.4 and $2.4 billion each year.
Gillibrand is a cosponsor of the No Cash Bail Act, legislation that would eliminate the cash bail system at the federal level and encourage states to reform their pretrial systems by using alternative practices that prohibit the use of cash bail. The ACLU, Brennan Center, and Color of Change support this bill. Specifically, this legislation:
- Ends the use of secured bonds in federal criminal proceedings.
- Provides grants to states that wish to implement alternate pretrial systems and reduce their pretrial detention population.
- Withholds grant funding from states that continue to use a money bail pretrial system.
- Requires a GAO study three years after implementation to ensure the new alternate systems are also not leading to disparate detentions rates.
“We must end the haves & have nots system of criminal detention in this country that relegates Black and Brown people as detainees because they can’t afford bail while others grossly take advantage of money bail systems,” said Reverend Al Sharpton, President of National Action Network.
“As a Civil Rights issue, the ‘No Money Bail Act of 2018’ is moving in the right direction to further reform the Criminal Justice system in America. We urge the Congress to support and pass this Act that will prohibit the use of payment of money as a condition of pretrial release in Federal criminal cases, and for other purposes. We commend Senators Gillibrand and Sanders for furthering equitable justice and equality for all Americans, despite race or economic disenfranchisement,” said Dr. Hazel N. Dukes, President, NAACP New York State Conference.
“Money bail punishes people for being poor. People who can afford their freedom are able to stay out of jail and others without that luxury remain behind bars, even though they might be accused of the exact same crime. Treating people differently based on their wealth contributes to the widespread inequality in our justice system. And it contributes to mass incarceration. Evidence from across the country has shown that eliminating cash bail can reduce incarceration without compromising public safety. Reforming our bail system is a necessary follow-up to the bipartisan prison and sentencing reform bill that the Senate has been debating,” said Michael Waldman, President, Brennan Center for Justice.