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End money bail

An achievable step towards justice for all

The majority of people incarcerated in jails – 70 percent, according to national statistics – have not been convicted of a crime. In most cases, after a person is arrested, a judge sets a bail amount starting at several thousand dollars that the defendant must pay to be released as a guarantee that they will appear for their court date. If the defendant can’t afford to post bail or to purchase a bail bond (costing at least 10 percent of the bail amount), they will remain in jail until their case is resolved.

That can mean months of imprisonment without being able to work. It’s also a terrible deal for the cities and counties whose jails are filled with people charged with minor crimes. Across the country, at least $3 billion is wasted on holding low-risk offenders before their trials. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. Earlier this year, the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office implemented a program to allow some low-risk defendants who can’t afford attorneys to be released after signing a written promise to appear in court. The Public Defender’s Office recommends candidates who are likely to receive probation but can’t pay their money bail, and the District Attorney’s office screens them and submits them to a judge to sign off.

Ryan Gentzler is a policy analyst with Oklahoma Policy Institute. For the rest of this article and more, visit okpolicy.org.