Top Reads

The Bail Project / Newsroom  / Top Reads (Page 11)

A study released by the Center for Court Innovation last week offers further proof that pretrial risk-assessments tools⁠—which some states have turned to in place of cash bail⁠—assign higher risk scores to Black people compared to white, meaning the former are more likely to remain incarcerated where risk assessments are used.

While others have made similar observations, the study adds value to the discussion because it suggests this kind of racism is intrinsic to the risk assessment model by design, and not particular to just one or a handful of assessments.

The Cambridge Homeless Court takes a different approach from most, connecting defendants with resources outside the court system. But critics say it doesn’t get to the root of the problem: “Communities are intentionally targeting the homeless by making it a crime to sleep on the street, or panhandle, or by selectively enforcing petty laws, using the criminal justice system to address the social service problem. Our preference would be simply stop criminalizing that behavior in the first place.”

Summarized by Jacob Koffler

“Suicide, long the leading cause of death in U.S. jails, hit a high of 50 deaths for every 100,000 inmates in 2014, the latest government data available…Many jails have been sued or investigated in recent years for allegedly refusing inmates medication to help manage mental illness, failing to properly monitor them or ignoring cries for help…

More than half the suicides or attempts occurred during the first week of being jailed, and about 80% of the inmates were awaiting trial.”

A federal judge ruled last week that St. Louis jails – including the infamous Workhouse where over 90% of people are detained pretrial – can’t incarcerate people simply because they can’t pay bail. The judge cited data from our St. Louis site in ruling that: “There is no evidence that financial conditions of release are more effective than alternatives for ensuring court appearance and public safety.” However, as of now, St. Louis courts are holding up new bail hearings for people entitled to them.

Summarized by Jacob Koffler

This piece from The Appeal looks at how “local media continues to rely on fearmongering police narratives in lieu of evidence and nuance.” Using Chicago’s CBS 2 as an example, it explores how local media outlets stoke unsubstantiated fears of threats to “public safety,” and, in the process, contribute undeserved pushback to bail reform. A necessary exploration of how the presumption of innocence is undermined not only in our courts, but also in our culture.

Summarized by Jacob Koffler

In many states across the country, there are far too few hospital beds for mentally ill people, including people deemed incompetent to stand trial because of mental illness. In most cases, this means unconvicted people are sent to jail until a spot opens up, further exacerbating people’s mental illnesses and placing them far away from adequate resources. This is a nationwide problem that “experts say may be linked to the downsizing of psychiatric hospitals and inadequate community mental-health resources.

Summarized by: Jacob Koffler

Over half of all pretrial service programs use video for people’s initial bail hearings! The audio and visual quality of the video is often low, such that defendants sometimes can’t even hear what’s going on at all. In some places, such as Philadelphia, a person’s public defender is only available to them via video, disabling them from having any private interaction with their counsel before or during arraignment and calling into question if defendants’ Sixth Amendment right to counsel is being met.

Summarized by: Jacob Koffler

As jails become overcrowded and conditions continue to deteriorate, the knee-jerk reaction from lawmakers is usually to build a new jail, eating up millions of dollars that could be better used to address communities’ needs and safety. This is particularly unfortunate because most jails in the U.S. are filled primarily with people being detained pretrial. This report provides some vital questions anyone anywhere with a proposed jail expansion should ask, including, of course: Are we holding too many people pretrial?

Summarized by: Jacob Koffler

“When Nicholas Colbert, a 36-year-old Army National Guard veteran, died last Friday in the Cuyahoga County jail, in Cleveland, Ohio, he became the ninth detainee to die in the jail system over the last year—and the fifth to die by suicide…The jail’s conditions are the subject of a class action lawsuit filed in December that was amended last month. Twenty plaintiffs, including current and former detainees, accuse the co-defendants of failing to provide safe and habitable living conditions for people incarcerated in the jail.”

There’s been a lot of recent – and justified! – focus on electing progressive prosecutors as an integral element of the movement for bail reform and to end cash bail (see: Philly, St. Louis, Queens). A new wave of organizing has its sights set on judges, who do ultimately make a lot of the final decisions when it comes to bail (and, of course, much more). This piece explores the politics behind judicial races and the impact judicial organizing can have on decarceration.

Summarized by: Jacob Koffler