U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has introduced the "No Money Bail Act," which seeks to prevent people from being locked up if they can't afford bail.
It also authorizes grant funding to courts for sentencing alternatives and authorizes the withholding of funds to states where courts still rely on cash bail. It also would require a study three years after the law's implementation to look at whether bail alternatives have
State Rep. Rep. Ted Lieu, D-California, also introduced a companion bill in the House.
The measures are among the widest-reaching efforts to combat money bail and its disproportionate impacts among lower-income-earning people of color and their families.
Hundreds of people sat in jail because they couldn't afford to get out. Can New Orleans bail out of its bail system?
Sanders' bill summary specifically cites New Orleans' bail system, the subject of an extensive recent report from the Vera Institute of Justice. The report found nearly 600 people on any given day in 2015 were locked up in New Orleans jails because they couldn't afford bail of $12,000 or less.
That year, more than 1,100 people facing misdemeanor charges were in jail an average of 29 days until their cases were resolved. The 1,275 people facing felony charges spent an average of 114 days in jail.
Money raised for bail represents an "enormous extraction of wealth" among working class communities that disproportionately interact with law enforcement while also effectively funding the criminal justice pipeline, according to Vera Institute Director Jon Wool.
Pretrial detention often means people miss work, which impacts rent, bills, families and children, while the bail burden often spreads throughout communities, in helping families pay to get their breadwinner or a parent of young children out of jail through fundraising or borrowing.
Bail reform advocates argue that the money raised to make bail enables a "user-funded" criminal justice system, and the revenue generated from those fees ironically does not support the same communities funding its operation — if it's even makes it that far. Vera found that the courts and bail bonds companies collected nearly $5 million from those fees, but it cost more than $6 million to jail those defendants.
Reform efforts in New Orleans courts have aimed to shrink the jail population by expanding pretrial services and preventing defendants from facing bail.
An April 2018 progress report from the MacArthur Foundation found 41 percent of eligible defendants in 2017 were released on their own recognizance.
New Orleans officials also are examining the costs of money bail and its alternatives, and criminal court judges are implementing a screening tool to prevent people from entering the jail and facing bail if they don't have to be there.
“Poverty is not a crime and hundreds of thousands of Americans, convicted of nothing, should not be in jail today because they cannot afford cash bail," Sanders said in a statement. "We should not continue having a ‘debtor prison’ system. Our destructive and unjust cash bail process is part of our broken criminal justice system — and must be ended.”