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. This unfair and unjust system punishes those who are not wealthy even before they have had a chance to defend themselves in court. The consequences are tremendous. People lose their jobs, their housing, and even their families.
Mississippi’s cash bail system punishes those who are too poor to pay. Detained individuals are often compelled to plead guilty to minimize risk and secure a release or more likely to accept a plea bargain or probation than those who are released pretrial. As a result, they increase their prospect of conviction, incarceration, and longer prison sentencing. Inability to pay bail criminalizes the impoverished and worsens a system in which the poorest are punished more severely than the wealthy.
This cash bail system disproportionately impacts Black people and other people of color. Research shows that Black and Hispanic defendants are overwhelmed with costs and fees higher than those of their white counterparts notwithstanding conviction for similar offenses.
We believe bail reform is essential to ending mass incarceration in Mississippi. We support legislation to dramatically and responsibly reduce pretrial detention, eliminate wealth-based detention, and combat racial disparities in the pretrial context.
The purpose of bail is “to guarantee an appearance at trial.” Imprisonment by way of the inability to afford bail should not serve as a penalty to ensure court appearance. The presumption should be no bail and release on personal recognizance. However, when bail is necessary, it should only be imposed when no other conditions will ensure appearance in court and after an assessment of a defendant’s ability to pay has been performed. We are working to ensure pretrial justice in Mississippi.