What Americans Think about Bail

In 2018, a national survey asked Americans what they thought of our pretrial justice systems. Their responses? Strong support for expanded pretrial release. The survey was done by a bipartisan team of pollsters on behalf of Pew Charitable Trusts. See The Pew Charitable Trusts, Americans Favor Expanded Pretrial Release, Limited Use of Jail (2018). Here are my top six take-aways from the survey, along with related survey data, explanatory text and graphs, which come directly from the Pew report (all attribution to Pew).

  1. A large majority of Americans supported using citations in lieu of arrest for nonviolent crimes.
  2. A large majority of Americans said that pretrial detention shouldn’t be allowed for minor crimes like trespassing and public drunkenness.
  3. A large majority of Americans supported pretrial release for people charged with misdemeanors and nonviolent crimes.

  4. Most Americans supported pretrial release for people whose likelihood of completing the pretrial period without a new arrest is as low as 70%.
  5. Most Americans said that money bail does not keep communities safe.

  6. A majority of Americans supported spending more taxpayer money on treatment programs and victim services and less on jail for people who pose little public safety risk.

4 thoughts on “What Americans Think about Bail”

  1. I didn’t see anywhere in this report where they talked about what minor crimes are, except public drunkenness and trespassing… Many consider being in possession of drug paraphernalia minor but are the cars and houses that these users are breaking into to support their habit considered minor? Their may a different approach to helping people who are addicted but until they are ready to get clean it is a losing battle. As an LEO with 16 years and spending 7 years working housing and gangs, trespassing was not minor. Drug dealers will hang out and sell drugs in the housing areas unless we cited or arrested them… I did both. What I found is that it is a case by case decision based on a number of factors. Another issue is that most low level crimes are dismissed once they go to court or if there are say 5 paraphernalia charges, they are combined and the person is only charged with one or two. Most people have no idea how the justice system works and how a person does or doesn’t receive prison time. What I can say is as the years increased in my LEO experience, so did my decision making on what the course of action shoud be… ie… more citations and less jail trips. But, I think that is in direct relation to those years I have under my belt. Times are changing but the crimes are not, and with drug use increasing perhaps there needs to be a mandatory sentence for drug users to be put in a drug treatment facility while awaiting trial or when they are arrested?

    • A mandatory sentence for ” drug users ” before a trial? Did you really say that? Who determines guilt before trial? The cop who arrested them? Being confined in a ” treatment facility ” is for pot smokers or just hard drug users? 80 to 90 percent of all drug users develop no problems with their use , so should they be locked up with problem users as well? Your views would be applauded by totalitarian regimes and police states but are condemned by any person or system that places any value whatsoever on human rights and personal liberty. The fact that you are a LEO makes me wonder if your radical views are common among cops? Thank God we have courts that make decisions that limit, even weakly, the abuse that the public has to suffer at the hands of our ” protectors and servers ” . Your attitude proves that the police, if left to their own devices, would surely create a police state, which is after all nirvana for the police. Your willingness to cage fellow human beings for desiring to alter their consciousness is chilling and appalling .

  2. It’s not Pew’s job, of course, but man it would sure be nice if there was a bit of education to accompany some of these survey questions. Yes, it would be nice to get every mental health patient and substance abuser help. Yes it would be nice to have trials within 30 days of arrest. But the reality is things don’t work that way.

    We respond to overdose calls and administer Narcan to dead or dying people. They come around and then refuse further treatment even after being told they still have opioids in their system that can kill them once the naloxone wears off. Forget about getting them into a rehab center. You can’t make people succeed in rehab. They have to be at a point that they want to and even then it is a struggle.

    We have people walk into our station complaining about the CIA spying on them through sparrow-cameras and satellite surveillance by the Illuminati. As long as they are not a threat to themselves or others, there is next to nothing we can do except refer them to mental health providers. Quite a few admit they go off their meds because they don’t like the way the medication makes them feel. We can’t force them to take their pills.

    Thirty days for a trial? Depending on what crime you are talking about, you can’t even get your lab tests done in six months, let alone 30 days. Public Defenders are chronically short handed and in some locals spend just minutes with their clients before very serious cases come to court. Cases take time to investigate. More is asked from an evidentiary standpoint than ever before.

    All the desires reflected in the survey are admirable but as usual when asking about what people want, the survey neglected to ask the most important question of all: Are you willing to pay for it?

  3. Not mentioned: prosecutors’ use of excessive bail to coerce confessions.

    Could there be a more brutal example than the bail set in the Little Rascals Day Care case?

    Bob Kelly, $1.5 million (later reduced to $200,000 – after his conviction was overturned – then $50,000 )
    Betsy Kelly, $1.8 million (reduced to $400,000)
    Scott Privott, $1 million (reduced to $50,000)
    Shelley Stone, $375,000
    Dawn Wilson, $880,000 (reduced to $200,000)
    Robin Byrum, $500,000 (reduced to $200,000)
    Darlene Harris, $350,000

    Did prosecutors fear that the Edenton Seven would flee to Argentina? That they would prowl the town’s playgrounds in search of new victims? No, these absurd amounts surely had no purpose but to bludgeon defendants into confessing. How shocked and disappointed they must have been that not one of them, though crushed emotionally and financially, succumbed.


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