Eastern NC's bond reform is a model for the rest of the state

"Innocent until proven guilty" means nothing when you're behind bars:

Two major changes are in store. The first is magistrates, instead of relying on a set list of bond fees correlating with a certain class of crime, will instead decide bond or no-bond with a flow chart that narrows down whether someone should have a secured bond, or should be released on a promise to appear in court, to another person willing to ensure they show up in court or on an unsecured bond.

The second is Beaufort County's District Court will hold a bond hearing every week to ensure that those charged with minor crimes are not sitting in the county jail solely because they cannot afford bail.

Our criminal justice system has many flaws, but this one threatens the core of our democracy. Pre-trial incarceration, especially for those charged with non-violent crimes, is a direct violation of our Constitutional rights. I say "our" rights because Americans are quick to dismiss the rights of others, but become very interested when the situation gets personal. It is a shameful facet of our society, and one we may grow to regret dearly. I'll let the ACLU explain it more deeply:

After an arrest — wrongful or not — a person’s ability to leave jail and return home to fight the charges depends on money. That's because, in most states, people are required to pay cash bail. Originally, bail was supposed to make sure people return to court to face charges against them. But instead, the money bail system has morphed into widespread wealth-based incarceration.

Poorer Americans and people of color often can't afford to come up with money for bail, leaving them stuck in jail awaiting trial, sometimes for months or years. Meanwhile, wealthy people accused of the same crime can buy their freedom and return home.

Across the country, money bail is set at levels that are far too high for many people or their families to pay. Defendants face an impossible choice: sit in jail as the case moves through the system; pay a nonrefundable fee to a for-profit bail bonds company; or plead guilty and give up the right to defend themselves at trial. For poorer families, paying this fee can be a significant hardship. They won’t ever get the money back regardless of the outcome of the case – even if the arrest was a case of mistaken identity and no charges were ever filed.

This bail system has increased the jail population and made America's incarceration problem worse. According to a report by the Vera Institute for Justice, the number of annual jail admissions doubled in the past three decades to 12 million, and the average length of stay increased from 14 to 23 days.

That "average length of stay" can be very misleading. Right now, there are defendants who have been incarcerated for months awaiting trial, many of them contemplating a guilty plea just to get out, whether they are guilty or not. That calls into question any stats you might see on both convictions and recidivism, because the system has morphed into more of a business than a legal institution. That needs to change, if we want to remain a democracy.

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