A piece in today’s
New York Times
explores the implications of the money-based bail system and how it adversely affects those wrongly arrested for crimes they didn’t commit.
Dominick Torrence was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after prosecutors claimed he had been allegedly spotted from a helicopter throwing rocks and bricks at firefighters during the April protests over the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. Because of previous offenses and missed court dates, his bail was set at an astronomical $250,000. Unable to pay the $25,000 a bail bondsman would charge, Torrence spent a month in prison before the charges were ultimately dropped.
According to the article, Torrence’s absence from his household sent his family into a financial tailspin. With no one to care for her two children while she attended classes, his girlfriend was forced to stop working and drop out of school, losing the $18,000 in tuition she had borrowed via a student loan. Now the couple is struggling to pay their rent.
The high bail amounts set for Baltimore protesters like Torrence exemplifies the broader problem of how the bail system disproportionately affects poor defendants, keeping them in custody for extended periods and often forcing them to plead guilty to lesser charges in exchange for their freedom, even if they had nothing to do with the crime.
According to the
, the bail system is coming under scrutiny in light of recent research that questions its effectiveness, concerns about racial and income disparities in local courts and an increased interest in matters of criminal justice.
Many states, including Colorado and New Jersey, are reforming their bail systems and many public officials are calling for their states to do the same.
“The bail is really being set to keep the person in custody,” Judge W. Kent Hamlin of Superior Court in Fresno County told the
. “It’s not supposed to be that; it’s supposed to guarantee their appearance in court. They’re innocent until proven guilty, but the bail system assumes they’re guilty.”
Read the full article