By Guy Page
The Bill to End Money Bail, introduced into the U.S. Congress July 25 by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, would eliminate all use of bail in federal courts, give states money to reduce pretrial detention, and withhold money from states that use money bail.
Vermont criminal judges may still set bail as a means of insuring arraigned individuals appear for trial. But a law that took effect July 1 sets a $200 cap on bail for low-level offenders, and the Vermont House Judiciary Committee last year considered bills to reduce pre-trial incarceration.
A statement on Sen. Sanders’ website explains what he hopes the bill will accomplish:
“The No Money Bail Act of 2018 would formally end the use of secured bonds in federal criminal proceedings, provide grants to states that wish to implement alternate pretrial systems to reduce their pretrial detention population and withholds grant funding from states that continue to use money bail systems. It would also require a study three years after implementation to ensure the new alternate systems are also not leading to disparate detention rates.”
Sen. Sanders says bail enriches the for-profit bail industry at the expense of poor people and the taxpayer:
“The U.S. spends nearly $14 billion each year locking people up without a conviction. Cities and states could save substantial amounts of money by ending cash bail systems. It costs $75 a day to detain someone but only $7 to supervise them in the community. Additionally, for-profit companies make a fortune off poor defendants. The for-profit bail industry makes well over a billion dollars each year, with the United States being one of only two countries in the world that even allows for-profit bond companies.”
Furthermore he attacks pre-trial incarceration:
“Pretrial detention is bad for society and bad for our criminal justice system. People held pretrial are missing days of work. They are missing time with their families. Often enough, they run the risk of missing a rent payment and losing their housing.”
What Sanders doesn’t address is what effect eliminating the bail system and moving towards near-universal supervised release will have on the crime rate. Requiring supervised release might save the system $67 per day, but would it also contribute to higher crime? If the Bernie Bail Ban passes, would federal prosecutors have less leverage with accused drug and child pornography trafficking gangs? As the Vermont Legislature and Sen. Sanders pursue anti-incarceration initiatives, Vermonters will want well-researched answers to these and other important questions.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.