Local Activists Demand End to Cash Bail in Chester County

lawImage by Arek Socha

CHESTER COUNTY, PA — On Monday, the Party for Socialism and Liberation Chester County and Downingtown Community Focus Group sent a letter to Chester County District Attorney Deborah Ryan and the Judges of Chester County demanding an end to cash bail in the county.

The text from the letter is copied below:

To the District Attorney and Judges of Chester County:

We are writing to demand an end to the use of Cash Bail in Chester County.

Under cash bail, incarceration is predicated on the individual’s ability to pay, rather than their risk to public safety. People are caged not because of a criminal conviction, but because they cannot afford to buy their freedom. Cash bail criminalizes poverty and leads to a host of secondary consequences that dramatically alter a person’s life. Cash bail disproportionately burdens the working and the poor, without any greater assurance of public safety.

Jail destabilizes lives that are often, and almost by definition, already unstable. It can quickly undermine the three mainstays of steady employment, housing, and family attachments.

In Pennsylvania, over 60 percent of people incarcerated are pretrial. Prolonged pretrial incarceration causes the loss of housing, employment, child custody, and is incredibly detrimental to one’s mental and physical wellbeing.

Detainees are acutely aware that while they are sitting in jail, their life on the outside is destabilizing. Often, to minimize the secondary effects of pretrial incarceration, people opt for plea deals – whether they are guilty of the accused crime or not – which lead to criminal convictions that drastically alter the course of their lives. A prior conviction may limit future job or loan opportunities, thus perpetuating a cycle of poverty and potential recidivism. The recidivism rate for PA is approximately 60% within the first three years of release.

People should not have to choose between their right to liberty and their right to a fair trial!

The relationship between poverty and incarceration is indisputable. Whether poverty increases the likelihood of incarceration, or incarceration perpetuates poverty – or both – is not relevant. The oppressive use of cash bail compounds the existing relationship between poverty and incarceration. Cash bail is cruel and inhumane.

Race is a factor. Black people are grossly overrepresented in the Pennsylvania prison population, comprising 46% of detainees and only 11% of the total population of PA. (In contrast, White people comprise 39% of detainees and 79% of the total population.)

In 2018, bail bondsmen and insurance companies in the US were making a net profit of between 1.4 and 2.4 billion dollars annually from bail money and as incarceration rates have continued to rise, we can expect that those profits have also increased. This money is being made directly from and at the expense of the most vulnerable, those who are already in a financial position such that they are unable to afford to post bail. These predatory practices are yet another example of how the use of cash bail serves to further exploit and discriminate against those who are already impoverished.

Washington DC ended the practice of cash bail in 1991. Philadelphia has limited the use of cash bail in recent years. For defendants released without bail, recidivism rates have not changed. Cash bail does not prevent “flight risk” or diminish recidivism. Chester County should be the next to abolish cash bail!

Wealth based detention is an outdated, medieval concept that has no place in our society. Until our legislature passes new laws to outlaw the practice, we are calling for Chester County to be a leader. We are calling for the Chester County District Attorney’s Office and Chester County Judges to abolish the unjust, inequitable, and racist practice of cash bail.

We look forward to your response.

Party for Socialism and Liberation – Chester County

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