The fight to end money bail is now in the Senate thanks to Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who introduced the No Money Bail Acton July 25, 2018.
The bill, aimed at preventing people from being detained simply because they cannot afford bail, would prohibit the use of cash bail in federal criminal cases. It calls for providing grants to states agreeing to implement alternate pretrial systems, and withhold funding from states that don’t.
“It has always been clear that we have separate criminal justice systems in this country for the poor and for the rich,” the bill’s summary reads. Sanders noted that a wealthy person charged with a serious crime may get an ankle monitor while a poor person charged with a misdemeanor may sit in jail for lack of bail money.
“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,” Sanders said in a statement accompanying the release of his bill. He added that 50% of all pretrial detainees are people of color.
For-profit companies are “making a fortune” off indigent defendants, according to Sanders’ bill. The for-profit bail industry makes between $1.4 billion and $2.4 billion a year, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in a 2017 report.
In the case of marijuana arrests, which account for over half of all drug arrests in the United States, the ACLU showed in a 2013 study that the consequences of prohibition fall disproportionately on communities of color. Nationwide arrest data revealed that despite roughly equal usage rates, blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.
“The aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws needlessly ensnares hundreds of thousands of people into the criminal justice system and wastes billions of taxpayers’ dollars,” writes the ACLU.
While Sanders’ bill is controversial, such efforts represent a growing sense of urgency among lawmakers to address racial disparities, writes the Intercept, noting that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer introduced a billlast month to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level.