Brett Davidson, Elisabeth Epps, Sharlyn Grace, and Atara Rich-Shea—
As directors of community bail funds in Chicago, Colorado, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, we know that money bail is not and has never been the entire or only problem. As tempting as it is to believe that ending money bail is the cure to pretrial injustice, we must recognize it as merely one piece of a much larger system of racialized social control. If money bail were eliminated tomorrow, the state would maintain many other insidious ways to punish people awaiting trial, such as through home confinement, financial penalties, surveillance and monitoring, allegations of “violations,” and jailing through outright denial of release.
As the public increasingly understands and rejects money bail, the system is attempting to regain legitimacy by shifting around resources and co-opting movement messaging. Over the past five years, many system stakeholders and elected officials have responded to the call to end money bail by proposing or adopting versions of “bail reform” that pluck money bail from the larger conversation about pretrial incarceration and supervision, and focus on only the most basic injustices. Efforts that create new pretrial supervision structures, implement risk assessment tools that put people into detention and release categories, and abolish the use of money bail for only “low-level” charges can all result in increased surveillance and supervision by the criminal legal system. These changes also further the idea that only some people deserve to be released while awaiting trial and frequently fail to result in any actual decarceration. Most importantly, these policy changes rarely, if ever, involve the courts relinquishing power over the marginalized people they harm. The next phase of pretrial advocacy must transform the simple call to “End Money Bail” into a vision of expanded pretrial freedom for all—moving our society closer to a future where we do not respond to all harm or inconvenience with cops, courts, and cages. Continue reading