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Cash Bail

Week 14: September 28, 2020

This week we are starting the conversation about bail. After arrest, criminal defendants see a judge within 24 hours. The judge then has some options for next steps depending on the severity of the crime. The most lenient course of action is to release the defendant and give them a court date which they promise to attend. The harshest is keeping them in jail until a trial verdict or plea deal. Bail is somewhere in between. However, in a system that works to disproportionately target and criminalize people of color and poor people, the cash bail system has problematic implications.

Please watch this video explaining our cash bail system and why it isn’t such a simple fix.

So if bail is not working, what is the alternative? As the video mentioned, one of the alternatives being used in many states is risk assessment algorithms. These algorithms, run through artificial intelligence, attempt to predict two things, 1) the likelihood a defendant will re-offend before trial and 2) the likelihood that a defendant will not show up for trial. However, because the algorithms take in background information such as gender, employment status, and family status, two individuals accused of the same crime may receive vastly different outcomes, with no way to challenge the process.

Although many people fail to realize it, algorithms are often, if not always biased, and if these biases are not considered and addressed, their impact may go undiagnosed. If we don’t acknowledge the racial, socioeconomic, and gender bias that exists in our criminal justice system, we will not be able to create algorithms that fight against them, but instead will be trapped under a system that further perpetuates these issues. 

The cash bail system is not working to equitably protect the rights of everyone in our society, and while reform is desperately needed, we can’t rush into another system that is equally biased. Developing an equitable and efficient system will take a deliberate effort by lawmakers and members of our justice system, along with a conscious, educated public keeping our government in check and ensuring that the next system is actually built to protect or prosecute everyone equally.

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