Harms of Cash Bail & Pretrial System

During the pretrial phase, every citizen accused of a crime is presumed innocent. The U.S. Supreme Court says that during the pretrial period, liberty is the norm, and detention before trial is the carefully limited exception. In our current system, this right to physical liberty before trial too often depends on a person’s wealth. That is because cash bail is imposed on people as a condition of release. This means that people who can afford to pay and who may pose a risk to community safety will be released. At the same time, those without access to resources and who do not pose a risk remain in jail.

Cash bail contributes to unnecessary detention. Pretrial detention has many harms. People detained before trial can be:

  • Pressured to plead guilty.
  • More likely to be found guilty.
  • Receive harsher sentences.
  • More likely to be rearrested.

Cash bail creates racial and economic disparities in our system. Research has documented the negative impact of financial release conditions on people of color and people experiencing poverty. National data shows that on average, Black and Latino people receive higher financial conditions than similarly situated white people, and as a result, are more likely to be detained.

Different agencies from law enforcement, jail administrators, prosecutors, defense counsel and the courts make decisions that determine a person’s path through the pretrial system. Those decisions have enormous consequences for the person charged, their family, victims and the community. A reexamination of the pretrial release system in Ramsey County promotes fairness, equity and community safety while reducing harm to impacted communities.