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Detroit to reform cash bail system to end practices that jail people ‘too poor to purchase their freedom’

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Show caption Michigan 36th district court chief judge William McConico addresses the media. Photograph: Carlos Osorio/AP Michigan Detroit to reform cash bail system to end practices that jail people ‘too poor to purchase their freedom’ Overhaul is the result of a lawsuit and is intended to challenge two-tier system where low-income people are jailed for lack of funds Coral Murphy Marcos Wed 13 Jul 2022 11.00 BST Share on Facebook

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A Michigan district court will implement reforms that will force judges in Detroit to state on record how implementing cash bail will protect the community.

The reforms are meant to end practices that commonly jail people from low-income and Black communities and could serve as a model for court systems across the US, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said.

In 2019, the ACLU, the Legal Defense Fund, the Bail Project and the law firm Covington & Burling filed a lawsuit challenging Detroit’s cash bail system, which members said disproportionately incarcerates Black and brown people.

The suit was filed on behalf of seven Black Detroiters challenging the two-tiered Michigan legal system in which freedom depends on the ability to afford bail.

William McConico, chief judge of the 36th district court, said settlement of the suit presented an opportunity to show law enforcement and activists can work together to change the criminal legal system.

Advocates said results of the case could reverberate across other states where thousands are held in jails because they are unable to pay bail.

“The misuses of cash bail are endemic throughout the United States,” said Phil Mayor, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Michigan.

“It’s true that in almost every corner of this country, except in the few places that have undertaken reforms, that cash bail is being used to incarcerate people simply because they’re too poor to purchase their freedom.”

Besides establishing an on-record determination of how imposing bail would protect the community, the new reforms say judges must make an on-record determination as to how much a defendant can afford to pay.

The settlement also indicates that a defendant at 200% of the federal poverty level or less, roughly a $27,000 annual income for an individual and $55,000 for a family of four, will be assumed unable to post a cash bond.

“No longer will being poor result in disparate justice,” said Judge McConico. “This agreement preserves judicial discretion, while ensuring that judges are exercising that discretion lawfully and wisely.”

The agreement will remain in place for two to five years.

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