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“This is no way to run a justice system”: Detroit nonprofit works toward a future without bail

bail bonds
Thomas Hawk
FLICKR - http://bit.ly/1xMszCg

One of the core philosophies of U.S. criminal law is the presumption of innocence, that defendants charged with crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Yet, there are half a million Americans sitting in jail everyday who have not reached trial and are unable to go home because they cannot afford to post bail.

Pretrial defendants are often left with a choice: plead guilty to the crime or stay in jail until their case reaches trial. Due to backlogs at many courts, that process could take months.

In 2016, Bridge Magazine reported that 41 percent of people sitting in Michigan jails are there because they cannot afford to pay bail. In Wayne County, that figure rises to 60 percent.

Amanda Alexander is the founder and executive director of the Detroit Justice Center, which seeks to reform mass incarceration on a local level. The state of Michigan's bail system may be “shocking to some people,” she said, but “for the families that have been living it day-to-day, it’s nothing new to them.”

To further bail bond reform, the Detroit Justice Center has partnered with The Bail Project. The national nonprofit operates a bail fund that bonds low-income people out of jail for free. But the work goes beyond that, said Rasha Almulaiki, a self-described "bail disruptor" and Detroit advocate with The Bail Project.

“We not only bond them out, but we provide wraparound services to make sure that they get to court,” she said. Those services can include transportation, childcare, and access to employment and education.

Those things are important, but Alexander said these efforts are stopgap measures. The larger goal, she said, is “ending cash bail entirely, ending pretrial detention,” and broadly speaking, “rethinking the wisdom of jails.”

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