Letter to the editor: Reform the cash bail system
Hundreds of thousands of people in the United States — people who have not been tried or convicted of any crime — are held in jail simply because they cannot afford bail. They may spend days, weeks or months in jail awaiting trial. And in the process, they may lose their jobs, homes, even their families. As their lives unravel, taxpayers foot the bill to the tune of millions of dollars.
The cash bail system is wrong. It disproportionately punishes the poor, both by requiring people without money to find money, and by imprisoning them if they cannot. It flies in the face of core American values of freedom and justice.
But it can be fixed. One year ago, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office stopped seeking cash bail for nonviolent offenses. The result? The number of incarcerated people declined by 22 percent, defendants showed up for court regardless, hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars were saved and crime did not increase as a result. Most importantly, people were not jailed simply for being poor.
Philadelphia’s example is well worth following in Allegheny County, while we push state legislators to ban cash bail altogether. In a rare instance of bipartisan agreement, Democrats and Republicans both acknowledge that our criminal justice system is broken. Ending cash bail would be a small but important step toward fixing it. Let’s work together to get it done.