"Prior to this reform [bail] was certainly more flawed than good," said Paul Prestia, the attorney who handled Browder's case. "The bail system serves a purpose, but it's skewed. Families who are disadvantaged are going to have a much more difficult time obtaining bail."
When asked if they would be able to afford a hypothetical emergency expense costing $400, such as bail money for a family member, only 47 percent of Americans said that they would be able to pay without selling something or borrowing money, according to the Federal Reserve's most recent data.
"If the family doesn't have the bail amount handy at the arraignment, within minutes the defendant could be on a bus to Rikers," Prestia said. "Then the process to take them home [after posting bail] could take days."
Cash bail amounts, intended to be insurance that someone arrested for a crime will show up for their court date, can become a problem when defendants who are unable to pay must wait in jail for their court date, often resulting in job loss and financial strain.
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The almost $18 million supervised release program in New York City will be an expansion of pilot projects in the boroughs of Queens and Manhattan, and will let 3,000 eligible defendants remain at home with their families and continue working while waiting for trial, the mayor's office said. In the Queens pilot, 87 percent of the people being supervised in the project returned to court without using cash bail.
At Rikers Island, 40 percent of detainees are there because they can't afford to make bail, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union, which testified before the New York City Council to advocate abolishing cash bail.
The average cost of keeping someone in jail while they wait for trial is approximately $19,000 per defendant, compared with averages ranging from $3,100 to $4,600 for alternatives like community supervision, depending on the person's risk level, according to research sponsored by the Department of Justice.
In addition to housing costs to taxpayers, waiting in jail can be costly for defendants.
Spending sometimes months in jail before their court dates, defendants can lose their jobs from missing work, said Nancy Fishman, project director at the Vera Institute of Justice, causing a spiral effect for families as missed payments for things like mortgages, cars and child support begin to add up.
"We're talking about people who don't have jobs where they can just say 'Hey I'm not going to be in for a few weeks, can I still have my job when I get back?'" said Fishman.
Aside from financial effects, being held in jail—even for a short time—has effects on future behaviors, according to the Vera institute's report Incarceration's Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America. Compared to defendants who were held for no more than 24 hours, those held for eight to 14 days were 51 percent more likely to go back to jail for another crime after sentence completion.
Jails are a gateway into the criminal justice system, Fishman said.