Opinion | Jail bonds hurt more than just the poor

Alisha Bell is chair of the Wayne County Commission

The time is now for the state of Michigan to reform its jail bond system. When it comes to criminal justice, our society has too long been focused on incarceration rather than rehabilitation.

Therefore, a recent resolution approved by the Wayne County Commission strongly supports the bipartisan package in the Michigan House and Senate (HB 4351 to HB 4360 and SB 207 to SB 215) that would reform the state’s bail system with regard to money bail, often referred as cash bail or a secured bail.

The present system, with its “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” mentality, is antiquated and suited more for a time when rehabilitation was not an option.

It also proves costly to taxpayers as recent statistics show that it costs Wayne County $163 per day to house an inmate. With an average daily inmate population of 1,648, more than $98 million annually is rung up. The cost nationally is almost unimaginable as it is estimated that the total annual cost to state and local governments for pretrial incarceration tops $14 billion.

While taxpayers are saddled with settling these costs, those unable to bond out are also greatly affected as jobs and income are no longer available and families are disrupted from their daily routines. Such actions perpetuate the cycle of poverty and result in the decline of neighborhoods and, eventually, communities.  

An individual’s inability to afford money bail should not be an indicator of that individual's guilt or an indicator of whether that individual is a flight risk for further court proceedings. While such reform should not be instituted across the board, it does need to be implemented in cases where pretrial inmates, those who have yet to be convicted of their alleged crime, are awaiting some sort of court proceeding or trial. A little more than 60 percent of individuals incarcerated in local jails across America are pretrial inmates and, of those, three-fourths are accused of property, drug or other nonviolent offenses. These pretrial inmates have burdened jail population by accounting for 95 percent of the growth over the past two decades.

Unfortunately, race and gender often influence whether defendants are released on recognizance and the amount of money bail set. Data show that African-American defendants comprise nearly one-half of the inmate pretrial population despite constituting a little over one-tenth of the total population. Those numbers have seen such organizations as the National Association of Black County Officials, the National Association of Counties, the American Bar Association and the National District Attorneys Association to condemn the money bail system as it discriminates against the poor.

Whether an individual remains in jail awaiting trial should not be limited to his or her ability to pay for freedom. Instead, the determination should lie in that person being a further threat to society or a flight risk. This type of practice would eliminate financial differences from the equation and allow for alternatives such as drug rehabilitation and various forms of supervision like GPS monitoring, drug tests and check-ins.

These types of reforms will provide some hope for those incarcerated whose financial status falls short of those accused of similar crimes. With the possibility of early rehabilitation many of these individuals will find themselves with an opportunity they cherish - being a functioning member of society.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission.

If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Monica WilliamsClick here for details and submission guidelines.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Douglas Carey
Wed, 05/08/2019 - 9:01am

I hope these bills pass. Let’s “Help ‘em up!” Instead of “Lock ‘em up!” Ms Bell, keep on keepin’ on! There are far too many people in jail who should not be there. Let’s not forget about the mentally ill as well.

Sherry A Wells
Wed, 05/08/2019 - 9:19am

Yes! Thank you for bringing forth the exact costs to taxpayers. That alone should be persuasive, though some of us are aware and deeply concerned about the other ramifications.

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 9:27am

I believe the first time offender maybe, depending on the severity of the citation, and if there is a second time, boot camp until the case can be brought to trial. The third they lose ALL RIGHTS TO DRIVE, AND IT WILL BE CONSIDERED A FELONY!(3 X OFFINDERS DON'T WANT TO CHANGE PERIOD.

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 9:46am

So letting them out w/o a cash bond is going to solve the problem? Just wait until the valedictorians don't show up for their court appearance. Then you to get bench warrants for them and someone will have to go looking for them. They'll go back to jail and court, so will they get another PR bond?

James F Bish
Wed, 05/08/2019 - 9:50am

Agree--but there is sure to be strong push back from the "private prison industry. They make big money off this "mass incarceration" scam--tax payers be damned. A friend of mine calls this "the new Jim crow" form of slavery.

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 9:52am

Ms. Bell is so concerned about money, the cost to the state, but her concern for cost seems to evaporate when it comes to victims. She makes no mention of the cost to the victims, no mention of the cost to society.
"lock 'em up and throw away the key," I guess the change that is letting out people that committed heinous crimes in their late teens is an inconvenient truth to Ms. Bell, is that so she can claim Michigan is fixated on 'throw away the key', didn’t she read those local headlines when teen criminals sentences for life were being released.
Ms. Bell seems to believing holding a person for trial is an indication of guilt, I always heard that bail was a means for encouraging a defend to appear at trial rather than create a burden of the court to send officers out to locate and return the defendant to stand trial. I guess this is another of the inconvenient truths of cost that Ms. Bell doesn't include in her considerations when it comes to the courts spending.
Ms. Bell seems to be making a case for changing practices in Michigan and yet Ms. Bell jumps from Wayne County to the State to the Nation when she picks the data she uses. Why is it that, do each set of numbers have a mixed message that is inconvenient for Ms. Bell's agenda?
Ms. Bell seems just like so many of the other politicians, don’t trust the public so avoid helping their audience consider the whole of the issue such as potential unintended consequences of her desired changes, she only berates those making the current system work.

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 11:37am

The amount of bail is determined by if someone is a flight risk and a threat to society. Cash bail will always have a disproportionate affect on poorer people as people below a certain income level statistically commit more crimes. Same facts apply to race when compared to a percentage of the population. Just listen to your county's 911 tapes. The same problems will arise as they did before there was a cash bail system, people will not show up for court. As witnessed by the sheer volume of people coming across the southern border then cutting off their ankle monitors, you can easily disappear in to the U.S. and chances are you will never be caught. Not saying there isn't another way to address this, but your reasoning was tried before and failed miserably.

Kevin Grand
Thu, 05/09/2019 - 6:02am

So, will Comm. Bell personally take responsible for their actions if turned loose?

Will she accept responsibility, which includes her going to jail, if they violate the terms of their bail?