John Jay is a place where everyone’s voice can be heard, and we don’t shy away from difficult discussions affecting our communities. We spoke with students, alumni, faculty, and staff to hear their honest opinions on the hotly debated topic of the cash bail system.
“We should eliminate cash bail for low level, non-violent offenses. The cash bail system violates the Sixth Amendment rights, because you’re supposed to have the right to a fair and speedy trial. There should be no reason for people sitting in prison for years without going to court. They end up wasting their time when they could be a productive member of the community. That’s something that unfortunately, really affects the minority population. It criminalizes poverty, and people lose their homes and their jobs.”
—Quardear Harris ’19
“We should end the cash bail system because many people who get arrested are getting arrested for petty crimes, and if they don’t have the money, they get stuck in jail for a long time. There are even people like Kalief Browder, who may be innocent and get stuck in prison for a long time.”
—Elodie Orienta l ’21
“New York should thoughtfully eliminate the use of monetary bail for most cases. To do this without compromising public safety, there must be a legislative change allowing judges to consider whether a person is a threat to public safety or a flight risk. This should be done using a validated, evidence-based risk assessment instrument that is bias-free and ensures that similarly situated people receive the same outcomes. The state should build a continuum of alternatives to detention programs tailored to the needs of specific populations, like young people and folks with mental health or behavioral needs.” —Lucy Lang, Executive Director of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution
“In New York City and other parts of the state, minorities are being discriminated against because they don’t have enough money to afford bail and they end up in jail even though it’s their first offense. If this is their first misdemeanor, they shouldn’t have to pay bail and should just go home on their own recognizance.”
—Magdalene Omaboe ’22
“It can go both ways in my opinion. If it’s a misdemeanor, then they shouldn’t make someone pay bail. But, if it’s a felony, someone shouldn’t be able to make bail. There should be a correlation between the charge and bail.”
—Rory Patraker ’22
“Yes, if you commit a crime, you should do the time for it. But if you didn’t commit a crime, then there should be nothing holding you back from going out and trying to plead your case. They should get rid of the cash bail system because it’s unfair, especially for people of color and people who are less fortunate.”
—Lizairys Sanchez ’22
“I see the benefits to the cash bail system, but I also see where it can be criticized. The main goal of the cash bail system is to ensure that offenders are present for trial. I think as technology improves, we can develop a means for tracking that can make the cash bail system obsolete. If technology can make that a certainty, then we won’t need the cash bail system.”
—Jonathan Vega ’12
“New York should get rid of the cash bail system because it’s biased against the poor. As an alternative, I advocate for initiatives that include problem-solving courts and diversion programs. For example, as a correctional educator, I educate clients in an alternative to incarceration drug treatment programs. It is wonderful to see the clients become empowered instead of languishing in jail because they cannot afford bail.”
—Professor Kimora, Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration
Center on Media, Crime & Justice Tackles Fines and Fees
by Jocelyn Key
Although cash bail and fines and fees are both forms of monetary sanctions, cash bail is the money paid for a defendant’s release before trial. The latter is the monetary penalty imposed on an individual for minor, nonviolent offenses like traffic violations or parking tickets. These fines and fees can escalate if they’re not paid on time, resulting in a burden for low-income people and can lead to a jail term. On March 7 and 8, John Jay’s Center on Media, Crime & Justice (CMCJ) organized a Cash Register Justice conference for journalists, practitioners, and advocates to discuss current research on the issue, and innovative best practices.
Alexes Harris, Professor of Sociology, University of Washington, and Joanna Weiss, Co-director, Fines and Fees Justice Center, spoke about how the system targets people of color. Harris explained that “one in 17 black men, one in 42 Latino, and one in 92 white men age 30–34 are in prison. Black women are two times that of white women. And, Latinas are 1.2 times that of white women,” she said. Weiss said that the protests of Michael Brown’s killing, led to an investigation by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. What they found was that “the city ordered the police to fill the revenue pipeline by issuing tickets, largely in Ferguson’s black communities,” said Weiss.
Anne Stuhldreher, Director of Financial Justice, City and County of San Francisco, said that San Francisco was the first city to get rid of fees for those exiting the criminal justice system, writing off $32 million in debt. Jon Wool, Vera Institute of Justice, asked the group to “imagine a world where we don’t tax the most vulnerable members of our community.”