Dayvon Williams, a Los Angeles resident, told me that when he was just 18 years old, he spent a full seven months in jail before trial, simply because he could not afford to pay the bail set by the court. That is time he will never get back. He missed his own graduation, and his health suffered, as his epilepsy worsened without proper treatment. If Dayvon had been rich, he would have spent those seven months on the outside, free.
When the justice system explicitly treats poor and rich people differently, that is not justice at all.
Every year, Los Angeles residents are asked to pay more than $19 billion for their freedom. And pay they do: millions to the courts and millions more to private companies. That is the money bail system in our city today.
In my new report released with UCLA’s Million Dollar Hoods project, called “The Price of Freedom: Bail in the City of LA,” we reveal shocking new data about just how much wealth is leached from our poorest communities through money bail. My co-authors and I looked at data from 2012 to 2016, and the numbers are staggering.
People arrested in LA paid more than $17 million in cash to the court and an estimated $193 million in nonrefundable bail bond deposits to bail bond agents. Latinos and African Americans paid more than their share: Latino men paid nearly $80 million over five years, while white men paid less than half that.
The city even charged $4 billion to homeless people.
Heartbreakingly, we also calculated that more than 200,000 people were jailed because they did not make bail — just like Dayvon.
In the report, we broke down the data by city-council district. Our elected officials need to see how much their constituents are paying to a private industry that provides no services to the community and does not make anyone safer. Other states have moved beyond money bail, and it’s time for California to do the same.
When someone is arrested in California, they have a legal right to freedom before trial. That period between arrest and court can be months or even years. However, our justice system can refuse to let you go unless you pay thousands of dollars. If you can afford it, you walk free. If you can’t, you stay in jail, or your family secures a loan from a private bail bonds company to pay the government. This is the two-tiered system of money bail in Los Angeles today, and it’s deepening existing inequality by snatching resources from the communities that need them the most.