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The Downward Spiral That Comes With the Bail System

July 17, 2015 | Written by Dan Margolis

While the episode of “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver that discussed the bail system is over a month old now, it still carries significant weight. Any cursory search on google about the bail system is likely to bring up Oliver’s extensive (and comedic) look at the subject. However, there are far too many people languishing in jail right now that don’t find this topic particularly funny.

The bail system targets the poor, and it makes it very difficult for people to fight even the most minor of charges against them. For example, Oliver’s piece point out that one man was arrested for driving with a suspended license. He couldn’t pay his $1,000 bail, so he had to stay in jail until he finally pleaded guilty to the charge — which is ridiculous considering the incredibly minor and non-violent nature of the offense.

Another problem with the bail system is that many people are in positions where they have to show up to work everyday and/or their housing is transitional. That means if they can’t make bail (and thus have to spend time in jail), they lose their job and/or their home.

This system has a terrible downwards spiral attached to it:

  • Charged with minor crime
  • Can’t make bail
  • Lose job and/or home
  • Have a criminal record
  • Can’t find job or home because of criminal record
  • Criminal act becomes more likely

The system isn’t so much “broken” as it is a total failure. The agency in charge of jails and incarcerating people is called the “Department of Corrections.” As in, they are supposed to help correct people, not make them worse off. It’s time that agency started living up to their name.

Source: Slate, “John Oliver Explains, With Lots of Jokes, Why We Need to Overhaul the Bail System,” Laura Bradley, June 8, 2015

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