Below is a map of “Economic Opportunity” broken into the MSAs in each state. Economic Opportunity is the measure of how likely it is for someone born in the lowest income and social class to be able to rise. Or to put it another way – the lower the Economic Opportunity, greater the chance that a poor person’s child will also be poor, and their children and their children.
Notice that isolated red spot right around ST. Louis, Mo – and including Ferguson?
Which gets us the The New Jim Crow – Virtual Debtors Prisons and Bail Bond Extortion
Like the majority of the nearly 750,000 people stuck in local jails across the United States, Rebecca Snow was not held in the Ascension Parish jail in central Louisiana because she had been convicted of a crime. The 33-year-old mother of three, who was charged with two nonviolent misdemeanors in late August, simply could not afford to post bail.
If Snow had the $289 set for each charge, she could have gone home to her family instead of sitting in jail. Many others arrested in the parish are able to post bail and go home, but Snow didn’t have the extra cash: She relies on public assistance and is indigent, according to a civil rights complaint filed against the parish’s sheriff and top judge.
The US Supreme Court and the Justice Department have both said that incarcerating someone solely because they can’t afford to post cash bail is unconstitutional, but that was the policy in Ascension Parish until just a few weeks ago.
Ascension sheriff deputies would set bail during booking using a court-issued “schedule” that matched the alleged offense with a generic bail amount, and some arrestees waited days before seeing a judge who could hear a motion to reduce it, according to the complaint. No individual factors such as prior record or employment were considered, and even those arrested for minor crimes like traffic violations were not released without posting bail.
In early September, civil rights attorneys filed a class-action lawsuit challenging the bail scheme, with Snow as the lead plaintiff. A settlement was reached within weeks. Now those arrested for misdemeanors in Ascension Parish are released on their own recognizance unless they are charged with assault, drunk driving or a list of other crimes that generally involve putting other people in danger. A judge must promptly set an individualized bail for those who are jailed.
“[The defendants] don’t really have any arguments,” said Alec Karakatsanis, a cofounder of Equal Justice Under Law, which worked with civil rights lawyers from southern Louisiana to challenge Ascension’s bail policy. “It’s a terrible policy in addition to being illegal. It’s expensive and it ruins people’s lives and it devastates them.”
Nationally, jails have twice the admission rate of state and federal prisons, and 62 percent of those locked up have not been convicted of any crime and are legally presumed innocent, according to the Vera Institute of Justice. Three out of four people in jail are being held on nonviolent traffic, drug, property or public order charges. In most jurisdictions, poor people facing minor charges are forced to stay in jail or plead guilty to get out while those who have money on hand often go free.
Using the Constitution to Force Local Reforms
Since January, Karakatsanis and local partners have filed lawsuits challenging secured money bail programs in seven cities across the South, and so far defendants in six cities quickly settled and agreed to end the practice of requiring bail for nonviolent misdemeanors. The first lawsuit, filed against the City of Clanton, Alabama, attracted a statement of interest from the Justice Department declaring that jailing people solely because of their poverty violates the US Constitution’s equal protection clause and is simply “bad public policy.”
Suing individual officials and jurisdictions has proved to be an effective tactic for civil rights advocates who argue that many of the nation’s 3,000 jails have become modern-day debtors’ prisons. Attorneys like Karakatsanis are going from county to county to shut down illegal secured money bail and court fine collection schemesthat fill courthouse coffers and keep private collection companies and bail bondsmen in business while poor defendants, who often cannot afford child care or to miss even a day of work, are caged without being convicted.
“We are going from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and asking them to change, and if they don’t, we certainly sue them,” Karakatsanis told Truthout. He added that his group would be filing more lawsuits across the country.
By definition, bail is not a fine or a form of punishment. The purpose of bail is, in theory, to ensure that arrestees show up to court. If you are jailed and a bail is set, you may wait there for weeks, months or even years for your trial to start – or you can post bail, which will be refunded when you appear before a judge. In some parts of the country, if you don’t have the money, you can hire a bail bonds agent to post bail for a fee, usually at 10 percent of the bail amount. You don’t get that money back even if you are found not guilty. (In the few states that have outlawed for-profit bail bond agents, a secured bond may sometimes be paid at 10 percent of the set amount as well.)
Money bail tips the scales of justice in favor of those who have cash on hand. For arrestees who can’t afford to put money down on their own freedom, jail makes it much more difficult to escape the deep maze of the criminal legal system. The Vera Institute reports that even spending as few as two days in jail can reduce economic viability, promote future criminal behavior, degrade personal health and increase the chance that a defendant is incarcerated if found guilty.
Pretrial incarceration also increases the likelihood that people will take a plea deal, and some people plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit just to go home and avoid losing their jobs and contact with friends and family. That’s one reason why activists in Massachusetts, New York City and Chicago have organized community bail funds to free low-income people from jail. Since bail money is generally returned once defendants appear in court, these grassroots bail funds can extend the benefits of a recyclable resource to many people who would otherwise be left to defend themselves from a position of incarceration….Read the Rest Here…