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Study shows why it's time to speed up bail reform efforts

When a person is placed under arrest and taken to the local jail for processing, it can understandably prove to be a disconcerting -- if not altogether frightening -- experience. That's because not only will they find it to be a decidedly unfriendly location, but also because they will likely have very real concerns about the road ahead regarding the criminal charges and their associated consequences.

Given this reality, most people post bail as quickly as possible, as it will enable them to resume their daily life, and, more significantly, seek legal counsel and start taking other necessary steps that may prove favorable to their case (anger management, rehab, securing employment, etc.). It's important to understand, however, that a significant number of the more than 11 million people processed at local jails throughout the U.S. every year are actually unable to afford bail.

While some might be tempted to discount the impact that pretrial detention has on these indigent people, consider a recent study conducted by a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School examining the effect of bail fees on residents of Philadelphia.

Shockingly, it was discovered that only 51 percent of people whose bail was set at $500 or less could afford to provide the minimum 10 percent -- $50 or less -- to be released within three days.

Perhaps even more shocking, the study found convincing evidence that pretrial detention increases the chances of people being convicted, sentenced to more time behind bars and ordered to pay large court fees. Curiously, it also found that pretrial detention resulted in significantly more guilty pleas -- frequently to less than favorable terms, including hefty fines and prolonged duration.

As to the issue of why pretrial detention causes indigent people to enter guilty pleas more often and, by extension, subject themselves to the attendant consequences that come with these guilty pleas (inability to find work, get into school, secure public benefits, etc.), the researcher theorized that it could be attributed everything from the overwhelming urge to be free from the oppressive conditions of jail to the immediate need to address critical everyday matters (taking care of kids, paying bills, getting to work, etc.).

As discouraging as this study is given that its results would likely be replicated in every major U.S. city, the good news is that there is some movement taking place at the local and state level concerning bail reform. Indeed, lowering bail amounts or simply releasing more low-level offenders on their own recognizance are some options now being explored.

Here's hoping we see progress on this front sooner than later.      

Please consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible as if you are have been charged with a crime or have questions about an upcoming bond/bail hearing.   

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