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Saturday, August 11, 2018

Why It Is A Crime To Be Poor In America

When Reynaldo couldn’t afford the $1,000 bail that the judge set — an amount that would feed his family for months — he knew that he would have to stay in jail rather than let his family go hungry.

And that’s precisely what Reynaldo did. Before being convicted of anything, he spent six months in jail on Rikers Island in New York instead of paying the $1,000 bail.

Or take Kalief Browder, a 16 year old boy falsely accused of stealing a backpack. Kalief spent three years on Rikers Island — two of them in solitary confinement — because his family couldn't afford his $5,000 bail. Following his release, Kalief died by suicide due to the trauma he experienced while detained waiting for a trial that never even went to court.

Whereas movie producer Harvey Weinstein, charged with first-degree rape, was able to meet his $1 million bail and go home.

This situation is unfortunately all too common: people are held in jail before they are even convicted of a crime because they can't afford to buy their freedom.

This is the unjust reality facing millions of poor people across America and around the world, and it is a major focus of Global Citizen’s new campaign to end the criminalization of poverty.

Reynaldo. Image: Courtesy of Vera Institute

The concept of cash bail sounds like it makes sense. If you are charged with a crime, the court might set a certain amount of money for you to hand over to the court, which they will give back when you turn up for your trial. That was the original intention of bail — as a condition for release, while you await trial.

The problem occurs when you don’t have the money the court is asking for. In fact, in any given year in America, nearly 12 million people will spend some time in city and county jails, not convicted of anything, just waiting to go to court. And 90% of the people in pretrial jail are there because they are unable to afford bail.

The United States' cash bail system doesn't just lead to the criminalization of poverty, but also the societal disenfranchisement of young, predominantly black men and increasing numbers of women.

Black and Latinx people are more than twice as likely as white people to remain stuck in pretrial detention, unable to afford bail.

Perhaps the most baffling part of all is that it doesn't make our society any safer. Most people in pretrial detention pose no risk to society, accused of low level nonviolent crimes. Plus studies have shown that people don't need to hand over money to turn up to court and stay out of trouble, they just need a simple text reminder of their court date.

So Global Citizen is taking action to end this unjust system. This year we’ll be targeting New York and California to end wealth-based detention in partnership with Vera Institute of Justice among others. And that’s just the beginning. Next year and beyond, the campaign will be tackling the criminalization of poverty that exists in various forms all over the world.

I invite you to join us in our campaign and protect those suffering at the hands of systems across the world that are meant to provide justice.

For a just world,
Katie and the Global Citizen team



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