High Bail Keeps People In Poverty In Jail

Sep 25, 2014

The Legislature’s Criminal Justice Reform Committee met on Wednesday to talk about bail, among other topics. According to one speaker, the high cost of bail creates a system where people who can pay are released, while people in poverty remain behind bars. 

Arthur Pepin has a lot of work in front of him. He’s the director of the Bernalillo County Criminal Justice Review Commission, a group tasked with figuring out how to decrease the population at the county jail.

Credit Daniel Schwen / CC-BY-SA 4.0 / Creative Commons

  The Metropolitan Detention Center has been the subject of an ongoing lawsuit for almost 19 years as a result of overcrowding. Pepin said lowering bail prices or making better use of release on recognizance might help decrease the population. "There are lots and lots of studies that are done, large and small, on the impact of money bail on people of color and those who are poor, and the system should be more rational than that in its approach to criminal justice," he said.

The Constitution is written so bail is supposed to be a last resort, Pepin explained. Courts should be able to consider whether someone’s a threat to the community or likely to return for a court date, he said, as opposed to a system where certain crimes come with automatic bail prices.

Pepin added that statistically, the rate in Bernalillo County at which people wind up staying in jail without posting bail is much higher than elsewhere in the state.

The Criminal Justice Reform Committee will continue to meet through the end of the year before drafting measures to be considered by the Legislature in 2015.