Injustice: Thousands Awaiting Trial Without Bail
New Jersey is considering a bail reform bill that would make it easier to deny bail to offenders ”with a history of violence.” This “tough on crime” rhetoric misses the real problem entirely – the disproportionately high number of poor defendants charged with nonviolent crimes, who can’t make bail and are awaiting trial in jail.
More than 60 percent of the more than 700,000 prisoners serving time in local jails in the United States have not been convicted of a crime. They are awaiting trial and are not able to make bail because of poverty. This is on top of the more than 2.2 million (2010) prisoners in state and federal prisons and the 4,933,667 adults (2009) either on probation or parole. In all, more than 7 million adults are under some form of incarceration or correctional control (prison, jail, probation or parole) in the US. There were an additional 70,792 youth in “juvenile detention” in 2010.
Seventy five percent of these prisoners are charged with property crimes, drug offenses or other nonviolent crimes. Prisoners are kept in dirty, overcrowded, conditions and separated from their families. Prisoners often face the loss of their jobs while awaiting trial. Families are damaged because of the financial strain placed on them. Additionally, there is a huge burden placed on the taxpayer; jails cost local governments more than $9 Billion annually. Some New Jersey counties have percentages of prisoners awaiting trial in local jails that are above the national average. In Philadelphia, the percentage of prisoners in the county system, who are considered “pretrial,” is about 57 percent. The Black and Hispanic prisoner population in Philadelphia County is more than 80 percent.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics more than 70 percent of prisoners in the US are non-white. The obvious racial bias of the system- from racial profiling at the street level to bail disparities in court – helps to fuel a system of mass incarceration of people of color.
Prisoners awaiting trial in jail are robbed of the presumption of innocence that supposedly is a feature of our criminal justice system. Due process and “equality under the law” only apply if you have the money to buy it. Poor people — mainly Black and Latino/a working class people — are locked into a sort of criminal justice apartheid, where their rights are violated.
What is needed is a community based bail reform that makes it easier for nonviolent defendants to get out of jail. Statistics show that nonviolent prisoners, who are released on bail, are not likely commit a crime while awaiting trial. Another necessary measure is to end the racist “war on drugs” and to fund drug treatment and jobs programs instead of incarceration.
Stop and frisk and other racial profiling must be ended. Police must be held accountable for targeting communities of color.
We can’t wait for politicians to do something; a mass social movement is needed to stop the prison industrial complex and end the racial disparities in the criminal “justice” system. This is linked to the broader struggles for jobs, education and to preserve the social safety net. We demand jobs for all, including ex-prisoners, at union wages and benefits. Ultimately, the end to this sort of injustice can’t come under s system based on inequality, racism and exploitation. Only a socialist society, where workers and the oppressed control the state and economy, can put an end to this travesty.
See also: Review: Broken On All Sides