Abolishing Cash Bail and Pretrial Detention
- When the prosecutor’s office seeks cash bail, it perpetuates two systems of justice—one for the rich and one for the poor. Those who can’t afford cash bail are detained pretrial for months or years, torn apart from their families and communities, jobs, and education and unable to meaningfully assist in their own defense. Vance’s office requests substantial money bail for the indigent with no regard for their ability to pay, while pre-negotiating attainable amounts for Vance’s friends and those with celebrity connections, and cash. Where Vance is prohibited from asking for bail under the law, he stubbornly requests pre-trial supervision for people who don’t need it. Increasingly, jurisdictions throughout the country are acknowledging that wealth is not a fair or accurate predictor of one’s ability to return to court, resulting in calls to end cash bail. Here in New York, hard-fought reforms that took effect January 1, 2020, have restricted district attorneys’ ability to seek cash bail for misdemeanors and low-level felonies, resulting in a 40 percent reduction in NYC’s pretrial jail population. But the Manhattan DA’s office under Vance consistently fights against those reforms. Vance wants judges to have the power to detain people who they believe are dangerous, a surefire way to exacerbate racial disparities in a country with a long history of using dangerousness as a proxy for race. Vance’s fixation on dangerousness would do nothing to address the criticisms that judges come to their decisions with biases and can never be neutral arbiters. Even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests, Vance called for more bail and pretrial detention rather than acknowledge that the reforms reduced jail populations with no proven connection to increased crime and with the additional advantage of slowing the spread of COVID in jails. As soon as the reforms went into effect, prosecutors, police officers, and sensational media outlets attributed as much crime as possible to the brand new reforms, despite evidence to the contrary. Unfortunately, the legislature gave into the fear-mongering and rolled back the reforms to expand prosecutors’ and judges’ ability to use cash bail, increasing pretrial jail populations during a pandemic.
- The next Manhattan DA will take over an office that relies on bail to extort guilty pleas from clients desperate to get out of jail. They should follow the spirit and the law of the 2020 bail reform and must end cash bail and unnecessary pretrial supervision.