The impact of pretrial detention is disproportionately felt by people of colour and those with low income

According to a study, more than 60% of defendants are held before trial because they are unable to pay bail, and those most affected are people of colour and those with low incomes.

Nationally, the average bail amount for felonies is $10,000, according to the report released Thursday by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The report is titled The Civil Rights Implications of Cash Bail.

In the report, it was noted that “the number of defendants detained in jail pretrial has grown, but the number of those sentenced have decreased.” as bail amounts have increased.

A total of 631,000 people are held in jails every day, and 74 percent are awaiting trial, the report said.

Research suggests that people of colour may be subjected to higher bail amounts and are more likely to be perceived as dangerous during bail hearings, according to the report.

According to one study, monetary bail amounts for Black defendants were found to be significantly higher than for white defendants, for example.

Research also shows that Black and Hispanic defendants have higher rates of pretrial detention than white defendants and are more likely to have financial conditions imposed.

The report noted that pre-criminal detention has unintended consequences, such as the loss of employment, housing instability, problems with one’s family, and a higher likelihood of committing another crime in the future. Those consequences have led to increasing concerns, especially given the lack of empirical research showing that pretrial detention increases public safety.

Many defendants post bail by relying on bail bond companies, for-profit businesses that charge a nonrefundable fee, usually set at 10 percent to 20 percent of the bail amount. Bail bond contracts often require defendants to pay back their loans and fees even after their cases have been resolved.

Bail concerns have led to reforms in at least 10 states and 40 counties. Some are revising or have already revised pretrial law and policy, while others are changing state constitutions, the report said.

The report followed a public hearing in which the commission heard from government officials, academics, law enforcement professionals, advocates and impacted people.

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Chair Norma V. Cant gave her thoughts on the findings in a press release.

“More than half a million unconvicted people sit in jails across the nation awaiting trial,” Cantú said. “Our criminal justice system is built on the presumption of innocence, with freedom as the default and pretrial detention as a “carefully limited exception.” Under the current bail system, it has become the norm.”

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