Posted on

How High Bail Costs Contribute to Systemic Poverty

Last month, Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act to encourage states to reform their bail systems. Beyond shrinking our overly expanded incarcerated population, bail reform would boost the United States’ stagnating income mobility by reforming a system that traps the poor in poverty.

Of the 646,000 people in local jails, 70% have not yet been convicted of a crime.

Upward mobility has stalled. According to Stanford Professor of Economics Raj Chetty, “social mobility is low and has been for at least thirty or forty years.” Of those born into the bottom income quintile, more than a third remain there as adults. However, progressives who blame the free market misdiagnose the problem.

A 50-state analysis found that in more economically free states – those with fewer labor regulations and smaller governments – the wealth of the poor rises more quickly than the wealth of the rich because freer markets produce more opportunity for everyone. The problem is that government policies like steep bail hamstring low-income individuals’ efforts to advance.

When low-income Americans can’t pay their bail, they go to jail. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, of the 646,000 people in local jails, 70 percent have not yet been convicted of a crime. Most are awaiting their trial. In 2002, those jailed had a median income of $15,109 prior to incarceration. Many inmates are there due to low-level crimes, like not paying a traffic ticket or driving without a license.

Jail Time Is a Huge Economic Hurdle

Being jailed reduces earnings. Jailed individuals often lose their jobs when they don’t show up to work the next day. Many individuals even plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit in order to avoid the weeks or months of jail time associated with a bail they can’t afford. The Journal of Legal Studies found that when judges assigned a money bail, suspects were 12 percent more likely to be convicted, in part because they were more likely to plead guilty to avoid jail and in part because they had less access to their public defenders.

This can have profound future implications, as many employers are leery of hiring people with a criminal record. Jailed individuals are even likely to become repeat criminals: the same study found that pretrial detention caused a 6-9 percent increase in recidivism.

Jail hurts poor people twice, first by depriving them of income behind bars and then by stigmatizing them once they are free.

These factors add up to lower earnings: a Pew study found incarceration reduced individuals’ yearly earnings by 40 percent. Formerly incarcerated Americans are hit even harder over the course of a lifetime: according to the same study, “By age 48, the typical former inmate will have earned $179,000 less than if he had never been incarcerated.” This doesn’t factor in the loss of income jailed individuals suffer while waiting for their trial.

When individuals are prevented from working and pushed into scenarios that encourage recidivism, they’re less able to escape poverty.

Jail hurts poor people twice: once by depriving them of income behind bars and once by stigmatizing them once they are free. The end result is less income mobility. Formerly incarcerated men in the bottom earnings quintile were twice as likely to still be there 20 years later, compared to men who were never sent to jail or prison. While part of this is due to the fact that incarcerated individuals are more likely to be frequent criminals, part is due to the negative effects of even one jail stretch.

Jail Time Hurts People Who Aren’t Criminals

Jail time also hurts the children of the incarcerated, creating inter-generational poverty. According to a meta-study on the subject, children with incarcerated parents are three times more likely to end up incarcerated themselves. Having an incarcerated parent can leave children with psychological scars such as depression, and can even aggravate learning disabilities.

Even when individuals can make bail and remain free until trial, they often require a bail bond to do so. A bail bond is a payment an insurance company makes on the accused’s behalf, but these companies often charge a payment of 10 percent of bail. The average bail for a felony is $10,000, and even misdemeanors often have four-figure bail amounts. Bail bonds often amount to a substantial fine that the working poor are ill-equipped to pay.

Bail bonds often amount to a substantial fine that the working poor are ill-equipped to pay.

Even individuals who can pull together the money for bail on their own may find that it wipes out their savings. While bail money is refunded at trial, going without thousands of dollars for several weeks can leave people, especially poor people, in danger of financial ruin.

Economic mobility is relatively strong for non-incarcerated individuals. Pew notes that 15 percent of never-incarcerated Americans who start in the bottom economic quintile end up in the top quintile. Our bail systems force poor individuals to choose between unfeasible short-term fees that can spell financial ruin, or the long-term earning potential loss that comes with jail time. For these people, upward mobility is a broken promise.

Julian Adorney


Julian Adorney
Julian Adorney is a Young Voices Advocate. His work has been featured in dozens of outlets, including National Review, Fox News’ Nation, and Lawrence Reed’s best-selling economics anthology Excuse Me, Professor.
Posted on

Bipartisan Bail Reform Bill Introduced in the Senate

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat, has introduced bipartisan legislation to prod states to reform their bail systems, reports the San Jose Mercury News. The new bill, which Harris co-wrote with Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, and was introduced yesterday, would spend $10 million annually for three years on grants for states that reform their bail systems.

Most courts in the U.S. require money bail, holding defendants in jail before trial until they pay. Advocates say cash bail is unfair to poor defendants who haven’t been convicted of a crime.

Under Harris’ bill — her first major bipartisan legislation — states would be eligible for a grant if they enact reforms such as replacing money bail with systems based on assessing a defendant’s risk to the community, releasing inmates before trial in most cases, or appointing public defenders at the earliest stages of pretrial detention.

In a New York Times commentary, Harris and Paul wrote, “Our justice system was designed with a promise: to treat all people equally. Yet that doesn’t happen for many of the 450,000 Americans who sit in jail today awaiting trial because they cannot afford to pay bail.” They said their proposal encourages better data collection, empowers states to build on best practices, and holds them accountable.

Some states have already moved to change their approach to bail. New Jersey, for example, is shifting away from “money-based” pretrial justice through pretrial risk assessment in a system NPR describes in the latest episode of its “Planet Money” podcasts as a “model” for the nation.

Posted on

Racial Imbalance in Louisiana Murder Charges is ‘Systemic’

Black homicide defendants in Louisiana are more likely than whites to face charges making them eligible for the death sentence in cases in which their victims are white, according to a Northeastern University study.

The findings add more evidence of the “stark racial imbalances” researchers have already found in the administration of the death penalty in that state—where the odds that African Americans who kill whites will receive the death sentence are 11 times greater than for a  “black-on-black” homicide—according to study author Tim Lyman.

Lyman, of the Institute for Security and Public Policy at Northeastern’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, concluded that the “systemic” inequality actually begins with prosecutors’ initial charging decisions.

He examined 1,356 cases where first-degree murder charges were filed and found that the race of the victim and accused made a critical difference.

“Yes, prosecutors pursue severe punishment more often in all white victim cases,” Lyman concluded. “But no, they do not round up and overcharge white suspects in these cases the way they do black suspects.

“To the contrary, they overcharge fewer (white on white) cases than they do the across-the-board under-represented (black on black) cases.”

An abstract and a downloadable version of Lyman’s study, “Race and the Death Penalty in Louisiana: An Actuarial Analysis,” are available here.

Posted on

Chelsea Manning Speaks Out Ahead of Release from Prison

Chelsea Manning, a transgender soldier has issued her first statement since former President Barack Obama commuted her 35-year prison sentence for leaking intelligence, saying on Tuesday she wants to help others after she is released from prison next week.

Chelsea Manning has served nearly seven years in a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after being convicted of leaking more than 700,000 classified documents, videos, diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks in 2010, the biggest such breach in U.S. history.

Her case became both the focus of debate over government secrecy and a rallying cause for civil liberties advocates, who saw the punishment as too severe and an attempt to chill whistleblowers from speaking up about government misdeeds.

“For the first time, I can see a future for myself as Chelsea. I can imagine surviving and living as the person who I am and can finally be in the outside world,” Manning said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“I hope to take the lessons that I have learned, the love that I have been given, and the hope that I have to work toward making life better for others,” she added, giving thanks for her upcoming release.

Obama granted Manning clemency in January, saying she had taken responsibility for her crime and her sentence was disproportionate to those received by other leakers. Congressional Republicans criticized the commutation as a dangerous precedent.

Manning’s clemency and appellate lawyers, Nancy Hollander and Vincent Ward, said in a statement on Tuesday the sentence was “far too long, too severe, too draconian.”

Manning, formerly known as U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, was born male but revealed after being convicted of espionage that she identifies as a woman.

Manning has previously said she released the files in the interests of transparency and accountability.

She twice tried to kill herself and has struggled to cope as a transgender woman in the men’s military prison. In her statement, Manning said her time in prison included periods of solitary confinement and struggles with restricted healthcare.

Posted on

Conservatives Wants Law School’s Civil Rights’ Center to Stop Filing Civil Rights’ Lawsuits

The Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina’s law school will be barred from filing lawsuits if conservatives on the university’s policy-making board get their way.

Conservatives say lawsuits depart from the university’s educational mission, but former law dean Gene Nichol sees another motivation, The Associated Press reports. He tells the wire service in an email that the proposal is “strictly, certainly and undoubtedly ideological.”

Nichol, who remains a law professor at the school, had headed the university’s Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity before it was shut down about two years ago by the university’s board of governors. About two dozen other centers were also shut down.

Board member Steve Long denies an ideological motivation.

“Free enterprise, civil rights, protection of children’s rights—whatever the cause it doesn’t matter. Are you going to stay on mission as an educational institution or not?” he told the AP.

The issue isn’t money, however. The center is funded by grants, foundation money, and donations. It was founded in 2001 by civil rights lawyer Julius Chambers, who died in 2013.

 

Posted on

Sessions’ Dream of Resurrecting Reefer Madness Foiled by Congress

If ever one feels the need to dole out criticisms, Congress is reliably low-hanging fruit. But just as a broken clock is right twice a day, once in a blue moon Congress does something that is not a complete affront to liberty.

Having Jeff Sessions as US Attorney General in the era of Trump has had civil liberty advocates on edge from the get-go. As one of the last remaining champions of marijuana prohibition, Sessions would erase all progress made toward decriminalization over the last several years—if given the chance.

Luckily, Congress has taken precautionary measures to ensure that the Trump appointee cannot get his regulatory claws on medical marijuana legislation passed by 29 states.

Congress is drawing a line in the sand on the issue of marijuana legalization. Saved by the Amendment 

The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which was included in the newly revealed Congressional budget, would block any federal impediment on state laws that legalize the use of medical marijuana by barring any federal dollars from being spent on enforcing national drug laws.

Slipped into the budget bill that would keep the government sufficiently funded until September, the text of the amendment clarifies that states that have legalized medical marijuana  are safe from federal intrusion, specifying:

“None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, or with respect to the District of Columbia, Guam, or Puerto Rico, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana

Nothing about this amendment is particularly out of the ordinary since medical marijuana has been subtly protected in budget bills since 2014. However, this year’s inclusion represents more than a symbolic gesture, given Attorney General Sessions’ outdated views on marijuana legalization.

Sessions had the audacity to call pot “slightly” less terrible than heroine. In a rare turn of events Congress, the governing body known for having little to no respect for American civil liberties is drawing a line in the sand on the issue of marijuana legalization, at least for medical purposes.

Sessions’ track record on the issue has done little to assure opponents of the drug war that states will continue to make strides towards allowing patients to seek and use marijuana for medical purposes.

Reefer Madness

As recently as February, Sessions made comments expressing his dissatisfaction with states exerting their sovereign right to make laws in the best interests of their constituents. Clarifying his stance he stated:

“States, they can pass the laws they choose, I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”

Demonstrating just how out of touch he is on the issue and denying medical research to the contrary Sessions also had the audacity to call pot “slightly” less terrible than heroine.

As more states have legalized pot, opiate use is down nationwide. While this statement would be outlandishly false regardless, to make say such things while an opiate epidemic is plaguing the country is not only ignorant, it’s especially dangerous considering Sessions’ powerful position when it comes to enforcing federal drug laws.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

In fact, as more states have legalized marijuana, opiate usage is down nationwide. But apparently, Sessions does not see this as a positive development even though heroine is estimated to have been the cause of over 13,000 deaths in America in 2016.

Fortunately, this move represents Congress’ reluctance to roll back any victories seen on the marijuana legalization front, at least medically-speaking, which, albeit small, is a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, this amendment only protects medical marijuana laws, meaning Sessions could potentially make a power grab and go after the eight states that have legalized pot on a recreational level, nine including the nation’s capital, although doing so would be wildly unpopular and out of line with an American public that now largely skews in favor of marijuana legalization.

While Sessions is surely the personification of the uneducated reefer madness era, he has yet to act on the issue aside from veiled threats that rhetorically resurrect an archaic sentiment.

Brittany Hunter


Brittany Hunter

Brittany Hunter is an associate editor at FEE. Brittany studied political science at Utah Valley University with a minor in Constitutional studies.

Posted on

Sotomayor sees ‘disturbing trend’ of failing to intervene on behalf of victims of police shootings

Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Monday complained about a “disturbing trend” in which the U.S. Supreme Court appears more likely to intervene on behalf of police officers than the people they shoot.

Sotomayor lobbed her complaint in a dissent from a cert denial (PDF) in an excessive force case. The dissent, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, included a footnote that read, “Some commentators have observed the increasing frequency of incidents in which unarmed men allegedly reach for empty waistbands when facing armed officers.”

Sotomayor argued that the court should have accepted a case that involved Ricardo Salazar-Limon, who was shot in the back by a Houston police officer as he walked back to his car. The officer said he shot Salazar-Limon in October 2010 because the suspect ignored his order to stop, turned toward the officer, and raised his hands toward his waistband. Salazar-Limon had said he was trying to walk away from a confrontation.

The shooting happened after Salazar-Limon was pulled over for suspected drunken driving and then resisted being handcuffed. Salazar-Limon sustained “crippling injuries” as a result of the shooting, according to Sotomayor.

Because there were competing accounts of the incident, the case should not have been decided by summary judgment, Sotomayor said.

The cert denial, Sotomayor wrote, “continues a disturbing trend regarding the use of this court’s resources. We have not hesitated to summarily reverse courts for wrongly denying officers the protection of qualified immunity in cases involving the use of force. … But we rarely intervene where courts wrongly afford officers the benefit of qualified immunity in these same cases.”

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. concurred in the cert denial in an opinion joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. Alito said Salazar-Limon never refuted the officer’s claim that he had reached with his waist.

“It is clear,” Alito wrote, “that the lower courts acted responsibly and attempted faithfully to apply the correct legal rule to what is at best a marginal set of facts.”

Alito also said that Sotomayor had not cited any cases in which the Supreme Court failed to grant cert on behalf of an alleged victim of unconstitutional police conduct that was similar to the cases in which it granted relief for police officers.

“This is undeniably a tragic case,” Alito wrote, but the court rarely grants review when a petitioner alleges a lower court erred in applying a settled rule of law to particular facts.

The case is Salazar-Limon v. Houston. SCOTUSblog has coverage.

Posted on

It’s Official: You’re Paying for Trump’s Wall, Twice

“We’re going to build a big, beautiful wall—and Mexico is gonna pay for it,” was one of Donald Trump’s campaign mantras. However, as Americans who don’t have political short-term memory loss will remember, politicians break promises once they’re elected. Such is the case with Trump’s promise to make Mexico pay for his “great” wall.

The reality is that Americans will wind up paying for the tariffs through higher food and consumer prices.You’re paying for it, not Mexico, and Trump’s newly released White House budget has made it official.

The Trump budget blueprint, released late Wednesday, calls for taxpayers to fund $4.1 billion through 2018 for Trump’s wall along the southern border of the United States. But that’s just for the initial construction. According to DHS estimates, the overall cost to taxpayers could be $21.6 billion, a figure that will likely be even higher considering the government’s penchant for going over budget and deadlines.

But wait, there’s more. Because Mexico has made it abundantly clear that it will not pay for America’s “great” wall, Trump has floated the idea of slapping a 20 percent tariff on all goods imported from Mexico to make up for the cost. This idea may sound legitimate if you disregard the laws of economics, but the reality is that Americans will wind up paying for the tariffs through higher food and consumer prices. As Anti-Media reported in January:

Many food products that people living in the U.S. enjoy, like fruits, vegetables, beef, and avocados, could be taxed an extra 20 percent under Trump’s plan. Mexican beer like Corona? 20 percent. Tequila, too. Cars, electronic equipment, machines, engines, pumps, oil, medical and technical equipment, furniture, lighting, signs, plastics, gems, precious metals, coins, iron, and steel products are Mexico’s top exports, which could be taxed 20 percent more.”

In response to the proposed tariffs, Mexico stated it would return tariffs—or border taxes—on U.S. goods going into Mexico, which would hurt American businesses and workers. So basically, you’ll be paying for the wall twice, or possibly three times if you are employed or own a business that relies on exports to Mexico.

At a time when illegal immigration to the U.S. from Mexico has reached a 40-year low, and the supposed economic benefits of the wall are nowhere to be found (though its negative effects are already being felt), many people are likely left wondering if it’s even worth it.

Nick Bernabe


Nick Bernabe

Nick Bernabe is the owner and lead editor of the website TheAntiMedia.org, an activist, blogger, and the founder and spokesman of the March Against Monsanto movement. He is also a guest contributor to The Mind Unleashed.

Posted on

Legal Services Corp. Eliminated by Trump Budget

President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget eliminates funding for the Legal Services Corp. In his first budget proposal released Thursday, Trump is cutting discretionary spending to pay for an increase in defense spending and the wall on the Mexican border, the Washington Post reports.
The LSC is among 19 agencies in line for total elimination of funding. Others agencies to be cut include the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts, according to the Post and USA Today.

The American Bar Association is “outraged” that the Trump administration is calling to eliminate funding for the LSC and is calling upon members of Congress to restore it, ABA President Linda Klein said in a statement Thursday. Klein noted that LSC offices are in every congressional district and help 1.9 million people annually.

“Some of the worthy services the LSC provides include securing housing for veterans, protecting seniors from scams, delivering legal services to rural areas, protecting victims of domestic abuse and helping disaster survivors,” Klein wrote. “More than 30 cost-benefit studies all show that legal aid delivers far more in benefits than it costs,” Klein wrote. “If veterans become homeless, or disaster victims cannot rebuild, their costs to society are significantly more.”

Also supporting the LSC are the heads of more than 150 U.S. law firms, who told Trump in a letter that eliminating funding would hamper their ability to provide pro bono representation because they partner with legal aid groups receiving LSC funding.

“Eliminating the Legal Services Corp. will not only imperil the ability of civil legal aid organizations to serve Americans in need, it will also vastly diminish the private bar’s capacity to help these individuals,” the letter stated. “The pro bono activity facilitated by LSC funding is exactly the kind of public-private partnership the government should encourage, not eliminate.”

The LSC requested $502 million for fiscal year 2017 and received $385 million in appropriations for fiscal year 2016.

LSC President Jim Sandman remained optimistic about the outlook for the LSC in an interview with Bloomberg Big Law Business. He said he expected Congress to ignore Trump’s proposal and to grant the full $502 million funding request.

“We represent a fundamental American value—equal justice,” Sandman told Bloomberg. “That’s a value as old as the republic itself. Congress understands that.”

Posted on

Here Comes the Fed! Texas Land Owners to Lose Property for Trump’s Border Wall

The government offered $2,900 for 1.2 acres near the Rio Grande. If Flores chooses not to accept the offer, the land could be seized through eminent domain.

Jen Reel The ribbon left by the DHS in 2008 to note where the border wall would enter on Aleida Flores’ land still remains.

The week before Donald Trump’s inauguration, Yvette Salinas received a letter she had been dreading for years: legal notice that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) wants to build a border wall on her family’s land near Los Ebanos. The 21-page document, entitled a “Declaration of Taking,” is addressed to her ailing mother, Maria Flores, who owns the property with her siblings. The letter offers Flores $2,900 for 1.2 acres near the Rio Grande. If she chooses not to accept the offer, the land could be seized through eminent domain. “It’s scary when you read it,” Salinas says. “You feel like you have to sign.”

The 16-acre property has been in the family for so long that none of them can remember the year it was acquired. Salinas only knows they’ve had it for five generations. Her uncle runs a few head of cattle on the property, which lies not far from Los Ebanos’ most famous attraction, a hand-drawn ferry that shuttles cars and their passengers across the river to Mexico.

This is not the first time the federal government has wanted to seize the land for a border wall. In the wake of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, the Bush administration put up 110 miles of border fencing, much of it on private land in Texas. In 2008, Salinas’ family received a condemnation notice offering them the same low, low price of $2,900. Others in Los Ebanos were mailed similar notices.

But nature and time were on their side. Los Ebanos is squeezed into a bend in the Rio Grande, and lies entirely in the river’s floodplain. A treaty between the United States and Mexico forbids building any structures in the floodplain that could push floodwaters into surrounding communities.

Jen Reel The map given to Flores in 2008 by the DHS showing their proposed fence acquisition tract on Flores’ land.

Salinas’ family held off on signing the condemnation letter. As time passed, building a wall in Los Ebanos seemed less likely, because of the treaty and because the Obama administration made wall-building less of a priority. In the meantime, Aleida Garcia, Salinas’ cousin, said the government has increased security in the area by adding more surveillance, which she prefers to Trump’s proposed 30-foot wall. “Even if they build a wall, people will still come,” said Garcia. “What’s helped us tremendously and is less expensive is the technology — the aerostat balloons, the ground sensors and even boots on the ground.”

But Los Ebanos appears to be a prime target for the Trump administration. The surveying and planning work has already been done, and the Secure Fence Act authorizes more border fencing to be built. And in 2012, the United States half of the International Boundary and Water Commission, a binational organization tasked with managing the U.S.-Mexico water treaty, capitulated to lobbying by DHS and agreed to a wall in the floodplain.

Jen Reel The map given to Flores in 2008 by the DHS showing their proposed fence acquisition tract on Flores’ land.

Salinas says her family doesn’t want to give up their land, and they are consulting with lawyers to decide what to do next. But fighting the federal government could mean spending years in court. If they lose, DHS could take their land without compensation. Salinas, who is 29, says it makes her sad that the family’s legacy could be divided by an ugly wall that will cause problems for Los Ebanos. “We don’t want this wall — the town is pretty much united on that,” says Salinas. “But we don’t want to get sued by the U.S. government either.”