L.A. Congressman Wants Suspects to Get Out of Jail Free

Your get-out-of-jail-free card could be arriving soon.

U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu of the South Bay this week announced that he's proposing to eliminate "money bail" from coast to coast. He calls it the No More Money Bail Act.

We asked his office what, exactly, that means. Turns out it means what it sounds like: Those awaiting trial in federal cases would not be jailed based on inability to pay bail.

Lieu's legislation would outlaw "the use of money bail on the federal level," says a fact sheet on the proposal.

"America’s broken criminal justice system goes against the core of our values," Lieu says. "We cannot both be a nation that believes in freedom and equal justice under the law, yet at the same time locks up thousands of people solely because they cannot afford bail. We cannot both be a nation that believes in the principle of innocent until proven guilty, yet incarcerate over 450,000 Americans who have not been convicted of a crime."

The congressman says that the bail system assumes guilt and essentially punishes un-convicted suspects for not being able to pay up. What's more, high bail can pressure the innocent to plead guilty because it can be the more cost-effective way to get out of jail, Lieu argues.

"America should not be a country where freedom is based on income," the fact sheet says.

Lieu's people say that the bail system costs taxpayers $14 billion a year to lock up suspects as part of their "pretrial detention."

His office cites an Arnold Foundation study that says nearly half of "dangerous criminals" locked up before trial bail out anyway.

Of about 2.3 million people behind bars in the United States, 450,000 have not been convicted and are languishing behind bars as a result of bail, Lieu's office says.

The bill would outlaw bail and, within three years of its enactment, deny certain federal justice grants to states that fail to follow the law.

The proposal surely has long odds in a Republican-controlled Congress. 

We probably don't need to tell you that black men are disproportionately accused of crimes, particularly minor drug violations, and that they often end up spending time behind bars regardless of the merits of the people's case because bail is out of reach.

"We are proud to support the No More Money Bail Act and believe this bill will address the financial and psychological harm money bail has on black inmates and their families," says Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange.org. "Black people face 35 percent higher bail than white people for the same charges. ... We call on members of Congress to stand with Congressman Ted Lieu and co-sponsor this bill. We must stop being a nation that locks up our citizens based on their inability to pay monetary bail."

The legislation is also supported by the Drug Policy Alliance, the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

"People must literally buy their freedom, even though they have not been convicted of anything," says Sam Brooke, the center's deputy legal director.  "When the poor cannot do this, they languish in jail for often months or years until their trials. The No More Money Bail Act of 2016 seeks to end this harmful practice and restore economic fairness to our justice system."

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