Thousands Of Americans Are Jailed Before Trial. A New Report Shows The Lasting Impact.
Pretrial detention, or keeping a person who has been accused of a crime in jail until their trial, is a common practice.
It’s been touted as a way to both ensure public safety and get people to appear in court.
But a growing body of research suggests that its effectiveness has been overstated — and that this practice is causing serious harm to the hundreds of thousands of unconvicted people pushed into jails largely because they can’t afford to pay the bail money required to remain free.
A new report on pretrial detention released by the Vera Institute of Justice shows that this type of detention has an especially severe effect on marginalized communities — like poor people, women, and black and Latino people. “People who cannot afford to post bail—in particular, people from poor communities—remain in jail, often until their cases are resolved, while those who have access to financial resources are able to secure their liberty,” the authors of the report point out.
This isn’t just a temporary hardship, either. According to the Vera Institute, people detained for longer periods are more likely to be convicted and receive harsher sentences than people who pay the required bail fees and are released or are never required to pay bail in the first place. The Vera report notes that these consequences seem to increase the likelihood that a person will reenter the justice system once they are released.
What’s more, the report suggests that pretrial detention policies may not actually be increasing public safety, or increasing the rate at which accused people show up for their court dates. It raises some serious questions about why pretrial detention is expanding, and what should be done instead.