According to The Intercept, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a bill on Wednesday that calls for a federal end to money bail and provides incentives for individual states to do the same at the local level.
Called the No Money Bail Act, the bill would forbid money bail in criminal cases on a federal level, give grants to states that want to use other pretrial services, and refuse to provide grant funding to states that continue to use cash bail systems.
The bill also requires a study of the effectiveness of the legislation three years after it has been implemented.
A summary of the No Money Bail Act states that the criminal justice system does not give both wealthy and poor people a level playing field, claiming that the poor tend to receive harsher punishments than the rich for the same crimes. The statement also claims that there is a racial element added into the mix, explaining that minorities are disproportionately affected.
In a separate statement, Sanders noted, “Poverty is not a crime and hundreds of thousands of Americans, convicted of nothing, should not be in jail today because they cannot afford cash bail.”
“In the year 2018, in the United States,” he continued, “we should not continue having a ‘debtor prison’ system,” adding that this is currently part of what makes our justice system broken.
Sanders also claims that for-profit companies significantly profit off of defendants awaiting trial. According to a report from the ACLU, for-profit companies in the bail industry make up to $2.4 billion a year.
Many defendants cannot afford to make bail and are therefore in “pretrial detention” for unnecessarily long periods of time. The Department of Justice reported that “about 60 percent of people in U.S. jails had not been convicted of a crime” in 2014.
The legislation’s summary went on to declare that pretrial detention should not be almost completely dependent upon money, adding, “We also must insure that jurisdictions do not eliminate cash bail but find pretexts to continue unfairly locking people up before trial.”
Legislation eliminating money bail has been introduced before, but nothing has been passed into law. The topic in general is somewhat controversial, even among lawmakers in the Democratic Party, but that has certainly not stopped senators from trying.
A similar bipartisan measure was introduced last year by Senators Kamala Harris and Rand Paul. The bill called for providing states with incentives to reform their bail practices, but was ultimately unable to go anywhere.