Sandra G. Mayson —
Ending money bail will not itself produce an effective and just pretrial system. The wonderful prior posts in this series have explored several reasons why this is so. I would like to add one more: Ending money bail will not itself produce justice because we have been using money bail, and the detention it produces, to meet a host of social needs. Forsaking it will require us to find better ways to meet them.
The purported function of money bail is release. It is supposed to balance our competing interests in liberty, security, and the effective administration of justice by ensuring that people at liberty show up for court. In fact, though, money bail also operates as a mechanism of detention. And we have been using it that way: to detain those who seem dangerous, to inflict punishment, to encourage guilty pleas, and to impose short-term restraint on disruptive people. Sometimes we have done these things intentionally. Sometimes we have done them inadvertently. What we have not done is admit what we are doing. The apparent rationality of a financial incentive mechanism has obscured the functions that money bail actually serves. It has enabled us to use jails as a first-line response to social problems without deliberation, accountability, or acknowledgement.
Ending money bail will eliminate a profound source of inequality in the criminal legal system. But it will also expose the difficult social, political and legal questions that money bail has obscured. At risk of oversimplification, here are a few of them. Continue reading