Bail Reform

April 12, 2019 • Volume 29, Issue 14
Are new policies improving criminal justice?
By John Buntin


Across the country, states and cities are minimizing the use of cash bail, a century-old system in which some criminal defendants are released from jail after putting up money to assure they appear in court. Many law enforcement officials are siding with civil rights advocates who say bail discriminates against indigent and minority defendants. Opponents of bail reform counter that doing away with bail would restrict judges' options and could threaten public safety. Efforts to eliminate cash bail, meanwhile, are creating their own controversies. Jurisdictions moving away from bail are increasingly relying on risk-assessment algorithms designed to help judges decide which defendants are safe to release, but critics say the algorithms are unreliable and racially biased. Reform activists also worry that eliminating money bail could make judges more likely to keep defendants locked up until trial, or to order defendants confined to their homes with electronic monitors. Critics say such monitoring can be just as punitive as jail.

A bench sign advertises a Los Angeles bail bond company (Getty Images/Mario Tama)
A bench sign advertises a Los Angeles bail bond company. A movement to do away with cash bail is gathering momentum across the country, sparking protests from the bail bond industry and debates about how to decide which defendants should be released from jail pending trial. (Getty Images/Mario Tama)
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Apr. 12, 2019  Bail Reform
Oct. 19, 2018  For-Profit Prisons
Mar. 03, 2017  Women in Prison
Jan. 10, 2014  Sentencing Reform
Sep. 14, 2012  Solitary Confinement
Mar. 11, 2011  Downsizing Prisons
Dec. 04, 2009  Prisoner Reentry
Apr. 06, 2007  Prison Reform
Jan. 05, 2007  Prison Health Care
Sep. 17, 1999  Prison-Building Boom
Feb. 04, 1994  Prison Overcrowding
Oct. 20, 1989  Crime and Punishment: a Tenuous Link
Aug. 04, 1989  Can Prisons Rehabilitate Criminals?
Aug. 07, 1987  Prison Crowding
Nov. 25, 1983  Prison Overcrowding
Feb. 26, 1982  Religious Groups and Prison Reform
Jun. 18, 1976  Criminal Release System
Mar. 12, 1976  Reappraisal of Prison Policy
Oct. 20, 1971  Racial Tensions in Prisons
Oct. 13, 1965  Rehabilitation of Prisoners
Oct. 09, 1957  Prisons and Parole
May 02, 1952  Penal Reform
Jan. 30, 1937  The Future of Prison Industry
May 08, 1930  Prison Conditions and Penal Reform
Civil Rights and Civil Liberty Issues
Civil Rights: African Americans
Congress Actions
Crime and Law Enforcement
Criminal Law Procedure and Due Process
Domestic Issues
Party Politics
Party Politics
Privatization of Government Functions
Regulation and Deregulation
Sentencing and Corrections
State, Local, and Intergovernmental Relations