In Mississippi, 56% of the 12,000 people in county jails have not been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial. This is because a system originally designed to ensure that people return to court as their case progresses has morphed into a system of wealth-based incarceration. If you can afford to pay money bail, you can buy your freedom. If you can’t afford it, you remain in jail.

Cash bail is one of the most corrupt and broken parts of the justice system. It lets the size of a person’s wallet determine whether a person – who has been accused, but not convicted of a crime – can return home or stay locked up in jail while awaiting their day in court. Mississippi’s cash bail system punishes those who are too poor to pay. 

After the arrest of a loved one, families face an impossible choice: allow their loved one to sit in jail for days, months, or possibly years as their case moves through the system; plead guilty and give up the right to a trial; or pay a nonrefundable fee to a for-profit bail bonds company. They won’t get this fee back regardless of the outcome of the case – even if it the arrest was a case of mistaken identity or police abuse of power. This choice is faced by anyone who cannot afford bail, regardless of their guilt or innocence. The system traps people of low- and moderate-income, tears families apart, and hurts communities. Meanwhile, people who have money can make bail and get out.
 
This unfair, un-American system impacts people unequally based on wealth and race. Not only is discrimination in the bail system wrong, it's unconstitutional. Current money bail practices
violate the Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection under the law, the Eighth Amendment that guarantees that excessive bail shall not be required and the
Sixth Amendment which provides the right to a speedy trial.
 

Did you know that Mississippi has the third highest incarceration rate in the country, and taxpayers spend more time $360 million on the prison system every year?

Most Mississippi voters want lawmakers to take action and reduce the state's and prison population. According to a 2018 poll by fwd.us, 67% of Mississippi voters support "ending the practice of keeping people in jail before trial if they have been charged with a misdemeanor or non-violent felony crime." Smart Justice in Mississippi must begin with bail reform. 

The purpose of bail is to "guarantee an appearance at trial." We are advocating for legislation that ensures that bail is not used as a penalty, and is the last resort for ensuring court appearance. HB 949 & HB 1081 will put a stop to abusive bail practices for non-violent misdemeanor offenders, help save precious taxpayer dollars, and provide the autonomy judges need to reasonably determine the most effective way to ensure the accused’s return to court after an ability to pay has been assessed.

Wealth-based incarceration is unacceptable, and it must end.

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