Over 200 people swarmed the Illinois State Capital on Tuesday to deliver jars of gummy bears to state representatives in symbolic protest against mass incarceration, USA Today reports. Their goal? To see an end to the controversial practice of cash bail, a practice often seen as needlessly regressive by critics and as a necessary detention option — and source of revenue — by proponents.
Every jar contained 250 gummy bears, each one representing a thousandth of the number of people who are incarcerated in the state and awaiting trial each year, according to data from Illinois’ corrections apparatus. Reform advocates from across the state rode bused in from Springfield in order to hand-deliver the 177 quart-sized jars to their local legislators.
State and local governments have begun to eliminate the use of bail in recent years, with opponents claiming cash bail disproportionately impacts low-income ethnic minorities. Of the more than 2 million people incarcerated in the United States on any given day, over half have not been convicted of a crime. Many simply can’t afford to pay bail.
Nancy Fishman of the Brooklyn-based Vera Institute of Justice spoke out on the subject, focusing particularly on the concept of cash bail.
“The use of cash bail, particularly over the last 40 years, has led to a dramatic increase in pretrial incarceration. It’s pretrial incarceration that has driven the growth of incarceration in this country.”
The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution establishes that no person have an excessive bail amount set against them, per Cornell’s Legal Information Institute.
“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
The Excessive Bail section of the Constitution has been interpreted to mean that bail cannot be used as a way for the government to raise money, or to punish a person for getting arrested. Despite the theory behind the Eighth Amendment, judges often set a high bail to prevent an arrested individual from getting out of jail.
Sharlyn Grace of the Chicago Community Bond Fund delivered remarks castigating the practice, detailing that it disproportionately harmed economically precarious persons.
“There’s no justification for the ongoing use of money bonds. It has the terrible, detrimental impact of jailing poor people who may lose their children, jobs, housing and, in some cases, their lives.”
Demonstrators chanted “End money bond!” as they trooped through the Capital rotunda. The demonstration was was organized by two social justice organizations — the Coalition to End Money Bond and the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice.
Meanwhile, proponents of money bail — which include private bail bond companies — say the system ensures that suspects show up for court appearances, bringing funds into government coffers at the same time.