Activists across the nation have heavily pushed for bail and pretrial reforms this year. They have called on lawmakers to enact necessary changes to begin fixing the practice of detaining people in jail for non-violent offenses.
Akeem Browder — the brother of Kalief Browder who committed suicide in 2015 after spending three years at Rikers Island on charges of backpack theft penned against him at 16 years old in 2010 — appealed to lawmakers to sign a pledge to end cash bail and reform NY’s “unjust” pretrial system at the New York State Capitol Wednesday (June 6). The public pledge is a way to hold legislators accountable for reforms and spur action before the legislative session ends later this month, the New York Daily News reported. Needed reforms didn’t make the cut on New York State’s fiscal year 2019 budget revealed in March. Governor Andrew Cuomo had promised in January to end cash bail for non-violent felonies and enact more timely evidence discovery and speedy trial requirements but failed to keep his word, Browder noted.
The battle for bail reform has heated up in New York — a state where the for-profit bail bond industry has a sizeable influence, Rashad Robinson, executive director of racial justice organization Color Of Change, and singer John Legendwrote in a poignant CNN op-ed last month.
Elsewhere, the battle has grown, especially in Baltimore where activists have worked with City Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to battle the criminalization of poverty. Bottoms, who listed cash bail reform as a top priority during her campaign, signed an ordinance in February to eliminate cash bonding at the City of Atlanta Detention Center in order to secure releases for those following an arrest for violation of city ordinances, CBS Atlanta reported.
In Chicago, activists have helped detainees fight for release including those kept in jail on “administrative review” after bond payments. Chicago Community Bond Fund, formed in 2015, has been working to pay for people to get out of jail and to end cash bail in Cook County. The county jail holds approximately 7,500 people — more than 90 percent of whom are pretrial and far above the national average of 67 percent. After activists have pressed lawmakers, the Illinois House of Representatives began in January considering the Equal Justice for All Act, which would abolish money bail altogether except in extreme circumstances.
Nationwide, justice seekers have recognized that bail and pretrial procedures have contributed to the problem of mass incarceration. Sixty-two percent of people in jail are “not serving time, but waiting for justice to be served in cases that typically involve nonviolent charges,” according to the Vera Institute Of Justice. America spends an estimated $22.2 billion annually to detain people in jails, Vera also reported.