During the 2020 campaign, Joe Biden described cash bail as a "modern-day debtors' prison," and promised to eliminate it. But after almost a year in office, he has barely mentioned it.
In October 2021, the Biden administration released a National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, a 42-page document that calls for eliminating gender-based violence, expanding access to healthcare and educational opportunities. The topic of cash bail got one sentence: "And we will work to end cash bail and reform our pretrial system, recognizing the harm these processes cause, particularly for Black women and families."
When cash bail is set, it allows a defendant to get out of jail while their case is pending. But many poor Americans languish in jail before the conclusion of their case solely because they lack money to pay the bail. Most states have laws that allow for the use of cash bail, though most decisions are made by prosecutors and judges in cases at the local level, said Insha Rahman, vice president of advocacy and partnerships at the Vera Institute of Justice, a criminal justice advocacy group.
The Biden administration hasn't "taken any concrete steps to date to eliminate money bail or move forward on other pretrial reforms," Rahman said.
Rahman said Biden could take three steps to move this promise forward:
Use the federal government's bully pulpit to raise the profile of this issue, such as "statements of interest" in lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of money bail;
Use discretionary grant programs, like Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, to set aside federal dollars for local jurisdictions adopting bail reform and pretrial justice measures;
Revamp the federal pretrial system, which still has one of the highest pretrial detention rates of any court system in the country.
The Biden administration could also offer its support for bills about pretrial justice and bail reform such as the No Money Bail Act or the Community First Pretrial Reform and Jail Decarceration Act. "They have been conspicuously silent on this issue," Rahman said.
If Biden takes steps toward eliminating cash bail during the next three years we will update this promise. For now, we rate this promise Stalled.
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