CASH BAIL: JAIL IS NOT THE ANSWER
by Florence Field and The Civil Liberties Team
According to the Larimer County Sheriff’s office, on March 21 of this year, Larimer County jail held 532 inmates. Of these 532, 313 (59%) were in jail not because they had been proven guilty of an offense and sentenced but because they could not post (pay) bail. They were locked up and waiting for their court date; their guilt or innocence yet to be decided. Surely some were incarcerated even though innocent.
But if a person had the resources to pay bail, he/she could walk out free, even if the same crime had been committed. Should freedom from being jailed be determined by one’s ability to pay bail? What happens to constitutional protections like due process and equal protection?
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser calls this process “criminalizing poverty.”
He continues: “There’s a moral imperative to reform the state’s bail system…For too long we have allowed persons accused of low level, and often non-violent, offenses to languish in jail simply due to their inability to afford bail…due solely to their lack of financial resources. This state of affairs is unacceptable.” (Watchdog.org, 3/16/19)
But the good news is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, a light that is getting incrementally brighter. On March 14, the Colorado House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously, with bipartisan support, to advance HB 1225 to the House floor. The Committee also decided that a companion bill, HB 1226, which was presented at the same time, needed further clarification.
HB 1225 prohibits a court from requiring cash bail for low-level, non-violent offenses.
The Civil Liberties Team will track the progress of the bill as it hopefully makes its way, slowly but surely, through the legislature until it evolves into law.
Supporters of HB 1225 point to other essential benefits which result from keeping people who are unable to pay bail out of jail. Having a person locked up is very expensive. It can cost Colorado taxpayers approximately $100 a night. for each inmate or, according to the Colorado Independent (3/14/19), more than $23 million a year, money which can be used much more effectively, leaving constitutional protections intact, than, for example, building new jails or expanding old ones to relieve overcrowding, a never-ending process.
Some opponents of eliminating cash bail fear community safety may be compromised if low-level offenders are released or that these offenders may not show up in court when their due date comes up. But as an article in the Denver Post (3/17/19) pointed out, “Research over the years has demonstrated that for many offenses, especially low-level ones, individuals released without monetary bail are just likely to show up for court appearances as those who put up cash…And they are no more likely to reoffend while free.”
Jail is not always the answer. To find out more about cash bail, come to the panel discussion program, sponsored by the League’s Civil Liberties Team, on June 24, 2019, from 7 to 9 p.m., at Pathway Hospice, 305 Carpenter Rd., in Fort Collins. Watch for announcements nearer to the date with more details.
Our studies recently have included the Right to Die, Immigration, and Xenophobia.
In the past, and in celebration of Constitution Day, the team distributed 1000 copies of the Constitution booklet to the public.