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Lavette Mayes is a single mother. She was arrested after a fight with her mother-in-law. To stay out of jail before her court date, she was asked to pay a cash bail she could not afford. For lack of money, she was locked up for 14 months while waiting for her court date. In a country that says "innocent until proven guilty," cash bail renders a punishment before someone even gets a trial.
Because she couldn’t afford a pre-trial bond, Lavette lost her small business and was separated from her children. “My children were just as incarcerated as I was with me being gone,” she says.
Lavette’s experience isn’t rare. On any given day, hundreds of thousands of people are locked up in jails even though they have not been convicted of a crime, and many of them are in jail simply because they cannot afford cash bail. As a result, they lose their jobs, homes, and families, regardless of guilt, innocence, or legality of the arrest. Lavette’s ordeal also speaks to another worrisome trend. Women are the fastest growing incarcerated population, with 219,000 women now in prisons and jails in the United States.
The cash bail system was originally designed to ensure that people return to court as their case progresses, but it has morphed into a for-profit system of wealth-based incarceration.