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Overcrowded jails, wasted tax dollars: Let's reform cash bail in Kentucky — and the nation

This piece originally appeared on the Courier Journal.

At the age of 16, Kalief Browder found himself on Rikers Island in New York awaiting trial for a crime he says he didn’t commit. Returning from a party in the Bronx, Browder was accused of stealing a backpack and its contents, which included a credit card, an iPod Touch, a camera and $700. At his arraignment, he was charged with second-degree robbery and bail was set at $3,000. He would spend the next three years in jail before being released and charges dropped.

Across the country, there are people who have spent weeks or months in jail, charged with minor crimes and unable to bond out. Because they are unable to pay the fines, everything is at risk: employment, housing, family needs.

People are being locked up for nonviolent crimes, unable to make bail. According to the Justice Policy Institute, 60% of the U.S. jail population is composed of people who are not convicted but are being held in detention, awaiting resolution of their case. Too often, people can be held for the same crime and given two bail amounts. In many cases, the bail amounts are way above anything they or their families can ever pay. The institute has also found that the cost of housing individuals until their case is resolved costs counties nearly $10 billion a year.

Last year, the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) held a march in downtown St. Louis focused on this issue. Having raised nearly $50,000, we were able to work with local organizations to post bond for many who were held on bonds they could not afford.

The challenges in St. Louis are mirrored in cities across the country. People spend days, weeks or even months in jail awaiting the outcome of their cases. Since the march in St. Louis, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has been in communication with several city and state leaders looking for solutions to the problem. Presbyterian Church (USA) leaders were invited by the mayor of New York City to discuss the St. Louis action and discuss changes in cash bail up to and including the possible closing of Rikers Island.

Working with an organization called The Bail Project, the Presbyterian Church (USA) is hoping to make changes. The Bail Project got its start in New York City to help people in need of bail assistance. The organization also helps with other services, connecting those behind bars to local groups that can assist with social service support.

The organization’s goal is to have real bail reform that impacts everyone, to decrease pretrial incarceration and to address the racial and economic disparity.

As many as 11 cities have partnered with The Bail Project to assist with the cash bail problem, and other cities are talking with them.

California has become the first state in the United States to completely eliminate its cash bail system. Josh King has that story.

For Kalief Browder, the story doesn’t have a happy ending. He maintained his innocence the entire time behind bars. But even after charges were dismissed, the internal scars of his time at Rikers Island never healed. The mental and physical abuse by gang members and corrections officers had taken its toll. Two years after his release, Browder hanged himself at his mother’s home.

On June 12, people across this community will gather at the Presbyterian Church (USA) offices in Louisville and march together to Jefferson Square. It is our hope that others will join us as we seek a solution that will not only ease jail overcrowding, but most importantly, allow these citizens to provide for their families while they await a court decision in their cases.

It is our hope that Louisville will join us in addressing this travesty against the most vulnerable.

This piece originally appeared on the Courier Journal.



Posted in JPI in the News, Criminal Justice News

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