Jailed Without Conviction: Behind Bars for Lack of Money
Lady Justice always wears a blindfolded.
No doubt about that. If she weren’t, the good Lady might very well be outraged at how justice is dispensed between the haves and the have nots.
Our jails are filled with pretrial detainees held for petty crimes, who often for lack of even a few dollars are kept incarcerated at citizen expense. They have not been convicted of anything, they might be exonerated or cut a plea deal and plead to an even lesser offense. Sometimes, the punishment is time served. And that can men months of lockup for a crime which might have yielded no time at all or they spend more time locked up than they would if they were sentenced to incarceration. The national cost is measured in the billions of dollars.
Consider this: Over 95% of all pretrial detainees in local or county lock ups are never sent to prison.
Then there are the social issues- loss of work, time away from family and diminished family income.
There has to be a better way.
About 10 million people are jailed each year for crimes large and small. Most - two-thirds of the 750,000 in jail on any given day - stay long periods without conviction at great cost to the public and to themselves because they can’t afford bail.
The teenager opened her neighbor’s unlocked car, grabbed the iPhone off the armrest and ran home, a few doors away in her downtown neighborhood here.
Perchelle Richardson still isn’t sure why she took the phone. Just five days earlier, for her 18th birthday, her mother had given her a standard, no-frills cellphone. But she loved the way iPhones looked, and her little brothers had seen this one through the car window as they played outside.
The high school student, with no previous criminal record, was arrested and, because her family couldn’t raise the $200 to spring her, would spend 51 days in jail, missing school, before she got her day in court. Her public defenders unsuccessfully asked the judge to release her without court fee and after that could do little beyond bringing her school worksheets, which she craved, she says, because they helped to break her boredom.
Ms. Richardson is symbolic of a little-known criminal-justice crisis that affects the millions of low-income Americans each year who languish behind bars in city and county jails. On any given day, three-quarters of a million people are jail inmates and two-thirds of them haven’t been convicted of anything, according to US Department of Justice statistics. They are awaiting trial, and an estimated 80 percent of them cannot afford to pay bail.