There are about 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States today, more than any other country in total, or per capita. There are multiple factors that have led to this mass incarceration, but a significant one is the way that the criminal justice system is stacked against the poor: a striking example is the legal institution of cash bail bonds. A cash bail bond requires defendants to provide an immediate payment to the court, to be returned when the court’s requirements are met.
If the defendant is unable to meet this payment, they must either pay a fee to a commercial bondsman to post bail for them, or they are imprisoned without trial. Judges usually have the discretion to modify the bonds based on the financial circumstances of the defendant, but often these circumstances are ignored or not even brought up.
This is why over 60 percent of the people in U.S. jails have not even had their trial yet. Bail bonds impose serious financial burdens on working class people, as almost half of the population struggles to raise $400 in emergency situations.
All across the country, we’re spending $14 billion every year to imprison people before they’ve been convicted of any charges, and the vast majority of them have been charged for trivial non-violent offenses. About 75 percent of all criminal cases are for misdemeanors that would be punishable by fines or by less than a year in jail if the defendants are proven guilty.
What’s especially frustrating about this system of mass incarceration is that a number of reforms and policies can be readily, almost immediately, implemented to reduce unnecessary and unjust detention.