Does No Bail Money Mean A Debtors' Prison?


Associated Press

The Clark County Detention Center houses hundreds of people waiting for trial, but because they can't afford bail... they sit and wait.

Pre-trial services. It’s a mundane term that can have an extraordinary impact on the life of a prisoner.

Basically, it means, “can you make bail or not?” If you are one of the fortunate, and you can post a bail after you’re arrested and arraigned, you’re more likely to get off.

If you can’t afford bail, and you are kept in prison until your trial, you are vastly more likely to be convicted.

Nationally, almost 70 percent of people in jail have not been convicted of anything. They are simply there waiting trial. This cost states millions of dollars, and it devastates the lives of people who may need drug rehab, or committed a petty crime.

People whose inability to get a hold of $150 may mean the difference between 30 days in prison nor years in prison.

Tim Murray, who used to run the Pre-trial Justice Institute, says that the U.S. is effectively running debtors prisons.

He also points out that successful criminals - who tend to be more violent - get out on bail because they have the money, while the single mother who wrote a bad check - or perhaps just got pulled over by a cop who didn't like her attitude - might lose her job and her kids and her freedom.

And because of everything people lose while they're in jail awaiting trial - including access to a good lawyer - these people are often at risk for committing more crimes. The system makes people more desperate, and therefore, creates criminality where none existed before.

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States and jurists around the country have started to look at this system and question its cost, its efficacy and its fairness.

Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice James Hardesty is one of those people looking at how to change the current system. He’s put together a committee to study evidence-based pre-trial release.

Here is the NPR Series that Laura Sullivan did in 2010:

Part 1 - Bail Burden Keeps U.S. Jails Stuffed With Inmates

Part 2 - Inmates Who Can't Make Bail

Part 3 - Bondsman Lobby Targets Pretrial Program


Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice James Hardesty; Tim Murray, Director Emeritus of the Pre-trial Justice Institute

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