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Study addresses disparities of bail system, highlights concerns about new law

In America, you’re innocent until proven guilty. However, even if someone is not guilty, they may still have to stay in jail until their court date.

By going to a bail bond organization for assistance, you’re assuring that you will show up to your court date or else the money or equity that someone put up for your bail will be forfeited or seized by the courts.

However, for certain demographics of people, posting bail is easier said than done.

What is the bail bond system?

A bail bond is money a person pays as a deposit for the release of a defendant. The bail is then held in a bank account until the court closes the case and issues a court order to refund the bail to the person who paid it.

The disparities of the bail system

In a study conducted by the Center for Research on Inclusion and Social Policy, it states that bail amounts are 34% higher for Black men and 19% higher for Latino men in comparison to their white counterparts.

The bail amounts in Marion County are similar to the rest of the counties in the state. But many defendants in Marion County must also cover additional costs after bail charges due to court fees and nonrefundable fees charged by bail bond companies.

“The cash bail system may put poor families in a bind,” says the author of the study, Krystal Gibson, “because if their bail is at a higher cost and if they don’t have the funds to post bail, they may have to rely on others to co-sign to help raise money.”

Indiana House Enrolled Act 1300, set to take effect on July 1, could make the use of nonprofit bail bond organizations much more difficult for defendants who have a violent offense in their history. The inability to post bail can lead to job loss, housing instability, child custody issues and reincarceration.

What’s the purpose of HEA 1300?

The bill was written in efforts to stop the spree of violent crimes in the Marion County area and the rest of the state as a whole after Indiana suffered a record number of homicides over the past two years, according to The Indianapolis Star. HEA 1300 will put a limit on how many people nonprofit bail organizations may serve monthly. Also, they can only engage in cases where someone has been charged with a nonviolent crime and faces a bail amount of $2,000 or less.

“Somebody’s going to pay for the criminal justice system,” said Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, “It’s either going to be the defendants who are committing it or the taxpayer citizen who is the victim of it. And every day of the week and twice on Sunday, I think it should be the defendant.”

Though the bill has already been signed into law, it is currently under litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, claiming HEA 1300 is targeting a national nonprofit bail organization called The Bail Project and argues that The Bail Project’s activities constitute “a form of expressive advocacy protected” under the First Amendment.

“This new law singles out charitable bail organizations in Indiana, which for all practical purposes means The Bail Project,” said Ken Falk, legal director of the Indiana ACLU, in a press release. “This unconstitutional attack on The Bail Project will hurt low-income Hoosiers in the criminal legal system who will have to sit in jail while presumed innocent because they cannot afford bail.”

How nonprofits help their defendants

Nonprofits like The Bail Project are organizations that could be affected by HEA 1300. The Bail Project’s national revolving bail fund is a way to prevent incarceration in an effort to go against racial and economic disparities in the bail bond system. The Bail Project works by revolving funds. The bail is set, the bail gets paid, the bail returns to the fund once a client’s case has ended, then the bail money is used to help free the next client.

The bail system puts an enormous amount of pressure on families who cannot afford to pay a defendant’s bail because if they can’t pay, it limits the options they have of getting out of jail. According to The Bail Project, poor people under arrest often fall prey to the whispers of prosecutors who promise them an enticing deal: Plead guilty now, and you can return home.

“The Bail Project isn’t only a bail system,” says Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis. “They also provide services to the people, like home ownership assistance. There are classes on drug addiction for those who were charged with drug paraphernalia [that] they had to sign up for before the organization would bail them out.

“And The Bail Project’s defendants have a higher percentage of showing up to their court dates than those who would go through for profit organizations.”

Effects of HEA 1300

As we move closer to July 1, when the bill goes into effect, nonprofit bail organizations are worried about the potential impacts.

“It will limit the number of people they can bail out to two or three, and it would create a system where nonprofits would have to register with the department of insurance,” said Taylor.

“We should care about this because the people who nonprofits serve are people who cannot afford to go to for-profit cash bail companies. The disparities are going to be huge for those who are poor and especially for people of color because they’re not going to have access to these not-for-profit bail companies.”

Taking away access to these organizations not only could impact how short or how long an individual has to wait to get out of pretrial detention but can also have a lasting effect on defendants’ lives after sentencing.

“The struggle of having to register with the department of insurance is that there will be a limit to how many people a nonprofit bail place will be able to serve monthly. So by restricting that, it will negatively impact those in need,” said Gibson.

“It’s hard to get people who don’t know much about the disparity issue to care, but it’s important to keep spreading awareness so that others who pass the information may even unknowingly help the next person with a friend or family member who is in need of resources like nonprofit organizations.”

For more information about HEA 1300 and nonprofit organizations, visit Bailproject.orgIga.in.gov, or policyinstitute.iu.

Ryus Moore is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.