Tax day sucks – especially when $14 billion go to pretrial detention

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If you had $14 billion dollars a year to invest in solutions to our most pressing social problems, what would you do?

As we bail people out day after day and connect them to voluntary services and programs, we can’t help but imagine the number of health centers, jobs programs, affordable housing units, daycare providers, and more that could be funded with this sum. It would surely go a long way towards breaking the cycle of poverty and criminalization that traps so many Americans in the revolving door of mass incarceration.

But the sad reality is that every year, federal, state, and city governments in the United States spend $14 billion tax dollars jailing people before trial. That’s nearly $40 million a day.

And that figure doesn’t even begin to capture the full economic impact. Including the estimated collateral costs in lost wages, foster care, court costs, etc., researchers have put the total annual cost of pretrial detention at $140 billion.

These lost dollars ripple across entire families and communities, disproportionately draining resources from low-income communities of color and falling particularly hard on women.

Budgets should be about where our priorities lie. And, as a recent Pew poll shows, Americans overwhelmingly support alternatives to pretrial detention, not more incarceration.

As we take our model of community release with support across the country, we seek to demonstrate what the alternative could look like, one that is more humane, equitable, and cost-effective.