In addition to the dangerous mental and physical health risks of overcrowded jail conditions, pretrial detention can have cascading effects on people’s lives — including loss of employment, housing, and child custody. According to a Harvard Law School study, it’s more difficult for defendants stuck in pretrial detention to mount an effective defense, and so they are more likely to plead guilty, to be sentenced to incarceration, and to receive longer sentences. Moreover, people of color are less likely to be released without a bail requirement and are more likely than other defendants to receive higher bail amounts.
Some defenders of the status quo claim that money bail is needed to prevent dangerous criminals from fleeing before trial. But let’s look at what we know. At any given time, close to 450,000 people — including 20,000 Georgians — are in pretrial detention in the United States. This includes both those denied bail and those unable to pay the bail that has been set. For those who are denied bail, the government must demonstrate that detainment is necessary to ensure appearance in court or to protect public safety. But for the latter group, they remain incarcerated only because they cannot afford bail, not because they are of any greater flight risk than someone who has the money to pay.