Nobody should be held in prison simply because they don’t have enough money for bail. And yet, under Vermont’s bail system, people who can’t afford to pay for their release after an arrest are held behind bars to await trial, even for low-level offenses, and even if they do not pose a danger to the community.
S.27 is a bill before the Vermont legislature that would end the use of cash bail for people charged with most misdemeanors and advance a study on how to end cash bail for all crimes. Although we hope to see Vermont end the practice of cash bail altogether, we support S.27 as an important step towards rooting out injustice in our criminal legal system.
What is cash bail?
Cash bail is the money paid to get someone out of jail after their initial arrest. It is intended to be used to guarantee that the person will return for a trial or hearings. If someone is believed to present a clear danger to others, they are held in prison without bail, which means they must remain in prison until their trial.
But even in cases where a defendant committed a low-level offense, and does not present a danger to their community, if they cannot afford bail, they must await their trial behind bars.
These individuals might end up in jail for weeks or months as they wait for their day in court, which puts them at risk of losing their jobs, homes, or custody of their children. The pandemic has only worsened court backlogs, requiring that some Vermonters wait years before their case is heard.
Cash bail is unjust—and expensive for our state
Under the cash bail system, those who have more money can return home after an arrest, while people who cannot afford to buy their freedom are forced to stay behind bars. This is fundamentally unjust.
Vermont has a uniform corrections system, which means our corrections facilities hold both people who have been convicted of a crime and people who are detained before their trial. Cash bail, by extension, is yet another driver of incarceration that perpetuates our overreliance on prisons.
It costs $261 per day to incarcerate someone in Vermont. This amounts to millions of dollars spent annually to hold people in prison before they’ve even been found guilty of a crime. Eliminating cash bail would not only address some of the economic injustices of our bail system—it would also result in tangible cost savings for the state.
Cash bail takes a toll on our communities
Even short periods of unnecessary detention induce trauma and increase a person’s risk of re-arrest. The loss of a job, housing, or personal connections can precipitate a downward spiral for the individual as well as their family and friends. These impacts are felt throughout our state.
Vermont has made tremendous progress on creating a smarter, fairer justice system and bail reform is a critical next step in that process. We urge the Vermont legislature to pass S.27 and commit to studying how to end the use of cash bail for all charges in the coming years.