Archive for January, 2010

Bail in the United States

January 28, 2010

Bail in the United States is a tradition that dates back to Virginia’s constitution which states: that “excessive bail out not to be required…” This was later adapted into the United States Constitution in the Eighth Amendment. Bail was later more clearly defined in the Judiciary Act of 1789, which described what offences were subject to bail.

The NPR series on bail told an interesting story about bail bondsmen setting impossibly high prices to increase their profit margin, while people sit in jail. NPR interprets this as the rich people walking free, while the poor suffer in jail. While certainly that scenario can play out, I believe NPR left many facts off the table in their piece.

Firstly, NPR allows readers to assume that bail bondsmen set the price of bail, which they do not. The courts set the bail (which cannot, by constitutional law, be “excessive”) and the bail bondsmen can front the accuser’s bail for a nominal fee. While this fee can be out of reach for some, I fully support the bail bondsmen right to charge what they wish in order to make a profit. They are using the free market system to fill a need that was not being filled by the government. The bail bondsmen do not, and should not have an obligation to cater to the needs of every accused inmate in a jail.

I do not support; however, the lobbying against the pre-trial release by the bail bonding lobby. While I do support their right to lobby, I do not support what they are lobbying against. I believe that pre-trial release is a good alternative to bail. Pre-trial release can solve the issue that bail tries to solve (preventing alleged criminals from skipping trial). Both bail and pre-trial release can adequately prevent alleged criminals from skipping their court dates. If a compromise can be made between bail bondsmen and advocates of pre-trial release, significant savings could be passed to the taxpayer due to the shrinkage of jail populations.

Advertisements

“Bail Burden” is an Understatement

January 26, 2010

   NPR’s article about the “Bail Burden” causes a remarkably similar reaction in me to topics we’ve discussed throughout the course. It ticks me off. I had always known that people are capable of neglecting those less fortunate than themselves, but this article tore apart the extent of what I imagined. The bail bondsmen have a moral occupation in theory but in practice they view poor individuals as animals that they can guide for a profit or left to wait for slaughter. And from the sound of this article, they’ll go to any length to get an animal’s money’s worth.
   The greed of these bondmen cannot be quenched. They want to ensure themselves of getting the maximum profit by putting the pretrial release program out of the inmates’ sight and mind. The pretrial release program allows inmates to pay a small fee in order to get out of jai until their trial. They can use this opportunity to get a job or get clean to prove to a jury they can change which can soften their sentence. Yet the head of the pretrial release program said that “the bondsmen lobby to keep his program as small and unproductive as possible, so that no paying customers slip through. They don’t even use the pretrial release’s customers because they’re often too poor to pay the bond fees. It should be a crime to make these poor individuals suffer in jail and deprive them of the opportunity to prove themselves capable of reemerging into society.
   I am shocked that these men can get away with this scheme. They ruin the lives of hundreds by taking away their chance to get their job, provide for their families, or get clean, resulting in harsher than necessary sentences. They will let these animals suffer and slaughter only to make a buck. These bail bondsmen don’t realize that the word’s gotten out and that they’re the real animals.

Crime and Punishment

January 26, 2010

I hadn’t thought about the U.S. penal system in depth unit reading this article.  I knew that it wasn’t effective but I had no idea that it was so costly. One man in the article had only been in prison for 75 days and it already cost tax payers 2,850 dollars.  The most shocking element in this article is related to bail.  The people that are in jail are in obviously in there because that has committed a crime.  The important thing to remember is that they wouldn’t have to commit crimes if they had everything they need, so they clearly aren’t going to have the money to pay their bail. For one man, the only thing, “Standing between him and the door: $150.”  This system favors the rich criminal.  For some people, just a few hundred dollars stands between getting their life back and losing everything.  “’I was going to get a regular car,’ Chew explains, ‘but I figured a station wagon would be better, because if I ever get in a bind, I can lay down the back seats and have a place to sleep.’ Chew’s feet begin to tap under the table. ‘If I lose that car, that’s it. I don’t know what I’d do,’ he said. ‘Cuz that’s how I get around.’ Chew doesn’t know it now, as he waits at this table for lunch, but he’s going to lose his customers. And he’s going to lose his car.’”  This is a common situation for people that aren’t able to make bail, they lose everything.  There are programs for nonviolent offenders that help with the over population in jails and cost of feeding and housing criminals.  Although progress is being made there is a long road ahead to an effective system.

The Irony of Prison Politics

January 26, 2010

Today’s jails and Moll Flanders’ Newgate share a common trend of punishing beyond reason. This fault, for it surly is a problem, is most noticeable and most prevalent when dealing with criminals who have little or no money and no ability to prove their worth.

Chew, from NPR’s report “Bail Burden Keeps U.S. Jails Stuffed with Inmates,” is a prime example of how punishment often exceeds the crime even today. While Chew was certainly not justified in taking the blankets, he did not use violence or even resist the security guard. After not even successfully stealing $120 worth of blankets, Chew must then serve jail time and procure a $3500 bail. The irony and also the shortcoming of such an institution is that the people who are desperate enough to steal certainly do not have the money necessary for bail.

In Moll’s time, the discrepancies between crime and punishment were even more severe. Newgate, in particular, solved many of its cases not through ridiculously high bails but through quick execution or transportation instead. As evidenced by the Old Bailey reports, oftentimes theft of anything less than a trifling object would leave the criminal with a sentence of death—unless, of course, the accused could produce money or, almost as important in the eighteenth century, an example of good reputation.

This notion of proving ones worth through reputation has not been lost in past centuries. Howard, from the NPR article, describes how a judge is much more likely to be lenient if a defendant pays bail and shows credence in coming back to a court date. This leniency is not a small chance at lessoning a sentence; in Howard’s case at least, bail could have turned years of prison time into mere probation. Similar to how bail money now shows merit, Moll Flanders uses her purse to show that she is not a common felon. In fact, through the strategic use of money, Moll and her fiancé secure themselves almost as ordinary passengers on their transportation voyage to America.

Ultimately, the most disconcerting connection between today’s jails and those of Moll’s time is that the least able and perhaps most needy criminals are plagued with unjust punishments and miserable conditions in which a man “has little bargaining power and nothing to show for himself” (3).

Injust Justice

January 26, 2010

The judicial system sends criminals to jail to punish them for disrupting society. The number of years spent in jail is directly related to the harm society decides it has suffered. Sentences vary from era to era based on several social factors including political climate and cultural ideals of justice. For jail sentences to be just, on the basic level that is decided by society, the crime must deserve the sentence. If the crime and the time are related by an improper ratio, a convict’s right to work is denied. Society essentially steals from the individual.

So, when “more than half-million inmates are sitting in America’s jails” without having been tried yet, there is injustice. These men and women who would pay their bail if they had the funds to do so should be working to better their situation and simultaneously aiding the aims of society. The United States employs ethics committees in many areas. Perhaps they should examine the justice of their own justice system.

Corruption

January 26, 2010

As the upholders of the citadel of democracy in the world, we citizens of America praise ourselves for the relatively few instances of overt corruption evident in our country’s government operations.  We as Americans, however, embrace an ideal of democracy that exists only when cited to bolster nationalistic fervor.  Regardless of how the United States’ political structure is viewed in theory, in practice, Americans face many issues that stem from a corrupt political enterprise so ironically praised for democratic values.

            In evaluating modern day crime and punishment, one can easily draw upon the parallels between today’s practices and those of the eighteenth century.  In truth, I question whether we have advanced at all from rudimentary criminal practices of the eighteenth century exposed by Daniel Defoe in Moll Flanders.  How is the criminal enterprise of today, an enterprise accused of “rewarding the wealthy and punishing the poor,” any different from Newgate, where criminals with money could bypass standard means of punishment (1)?  We live in a fiscally driven world that began with the economic surges of the eighteenth century.  Unfortunately, on our way to a completely consumerist society, we have lost our moral guidance; oftentimes, we now seek to quickly maximize profits over acting to fulfill our moral obligations.  In this regard, it is no surprise that works such as Moll Flanders, and other works written to reinstall morality, oftentimes through instruction, into the lives of all citizens, are as equally applicable today as they were roughly three hundred years ago. 

            The current issue regarding inmates’ abilities to pay bail exemplifies one of the many similarities between two seemingly dissimilar time periods: the U.S. today and London in the eighteenth century.  In the town of Lubbock, Texas, the issue of corruption is clear.  Even though justified with its necessity in “making a living,” Lubbock’s bail bondsmen attempt to keep pretrial companies as unproductive as possible (4).  These bail bondsmen have no problem keeping inmates away from the pretrial companies and consequently causing them to be stuck in prison for an absurd amount of time pending their trial.  Perhaps most corrupt of all is that these men that the bondsmen are keeping from other methods of liberty could not even afford the services of the bondsmen.  In essence, the bond companies are using political schemes and “the power of money” to inhibit other people’s agendas without advancing their own (4).  If that does not sound like corruption, or to use a more fitting definition, moral perversion, what does?

            Moll has a similar prison experience, although, having money, she is more equatable to the bondsmen who benefit from corruption than the inmates who suffer.  In Moll Flanders, corruption is evident in not only the way that Moll can bribe officials to escape her transportation sentence, but also in the actions of the men employed by the prison.  The ordinary of Newgate, or Chaplain of the prison, would in the morning preach “Confession and Repentance,” while in the afternoon, he would be found “drunk with Brandy and Spirits” (218).  The prison workers and superiors in Lubbock are as corrupt in many ways as well.  The workers with any kind of decision making authority are inhibited in their actions by what is deemed politically correct.  For instance, one official justifies letting the issue of overstuffed jails come to such a deplorable state with “I don’t want [people] to think I’m soft on crime” (7).  As in Moll’s time, the importance of appearance oftentimes overshadows the value of human life.

            For Daniel Defoe’s writing, Newgate prison functioned as the extreme setting of melancholy and despair.  People were sent to Newgate prison, chiefly, for one purpose: execution.  In order to contrast the livelihood found from transportation, it is even likely that Defoe embellished some of the corruption found at the infamous prison. It is scary to think that a potential over exaggeration of a place that housed, for execution, offenders of such petty crimes as stealing scraps of cloth is even closely comparable to today’s justice system.  If, in fact, Defoe was exaggerating, is the deducible conclusion that Defoe’s attempt to correct society failed?  Has society actually degraded even farther from its crude state during the eighteenth century? I would argue that yes, we have failed to learn from the instruction of Moll and that our greed will eventaully lead to our destruction as our desire for monetary success consumes us.

Reactions and Thoughts

January 26, 2010

Just like the jail inmates sitting in Newgate, England in the story of Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe, these jail inmates in Lubbock, Texas are not there for a major punishment, but still stuck in jail because they could not pay to bail themselves out.  Thought the punishments were vastly different back then, the number of people who get a harder punishment than they deserve is about three fourths of the total inmates in any time period.  The small misdemeanors and crimes that these inmates have commited once say that they now want another chance in the world and prove themselves trustworthy. This could also be thought of like a black hole essentially, but at least most of the prisoners in the time of Moll Flanders had the option of transportation unlike today in America.  

These people from Lubbock, Texas who had little money to begin with committed a small crime to sustain themselves, like Leslie Chew or a mistake, like Raymond Howard and ended up in jail for longer than they expected because of their misfortunes and such a high bail out rate.  These guys are not the only people sitting around being fed and clothed by taxpayers, there are several hundred more so now jails have considered expanding or building another jail to house these inmates.  NPR goes on to explain about the bail bond companies that are benefiting from these trials and instead of the money going to improve the county, it is going to these private businesses who are ripping people off and getting away with unfair deals in the courtroom with inmates who have no money. 

Pretrial release sounds like that is the best way to go for people who want to gain trust back if they do not have the money.  All the non violent inmates could be released under supervision with ankle bracelets, house checks, or counseling, which actually costs “a couple dollars a day, compared with the national  average of $60 a day in jail” (4).  There was also another option to pay entirely by cash to bail a person out.  Then when they show up to court, the cash is given back even if it is a bit delayed.  This is much better than the bail bonding business, but a lot of people do not even know it is an option. 

 If there is a list on a wall of all the numbers for the bail bonding companies, then there should also be a piece of paper giving someone all the options possible to get out of jail with a reasonable deal in hand.

Punishment in Eighteenth Century London and Modern Day America

January 26, 2010

            Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders contains multiple “instructions” that act as a guide for the reader to follow. Even today the lessons in Moll Flanders are present. The NPR article “Bail Burden Keeps U.S. Jails Stuffed With Inmates” supports the fact that Daniel Defoe’s instructions displayed through Moll Flanders are present in modern times. Leslie Chew, an underclass handyman who often sleeps in his station wagon, can be compared to a London citizen in the eighteenth century. In eighteenth century London, crime could not be tolerated and the consequences were unrealistic. Transportation and execution for simply stealing clothing was not an unusual punishment at the time. Chew can relate to this because he spent one hundred and eighty five days in jail for only stealing a few blankets to stay warm. If Chew made an average salary, he could have payed his bail and moved on. But, since he did not have the money, Chew spent a large amount of time in jail. Leslie Chew “…set in motion a process almost unique to the United States that rewards the wealthy and punished the poor”(Sullivan 1). Modern day America and eighteenth century London are similar in the way that they view lower class citizens. Newgate virtually controlled all the criminals in London, a majority of the criminals being apart of the lower class. If you had the money to show for something, as Moll had when she was accused of stealing, you could most often get off. There is a direct comparison to this today in America. If an inmate can pay his pay, he is free to go. This, ofcourse, is the key focus and predicament of the article. When Moll goes to America, she shows that she is wealthy and therefor recieves a nice voyage. Today, inmates who can pay their bail, no matter what their crime, walk out the door shortly after arriving. Even though it has been nearly three hundred years, the presence of money within punishment has not disappeared.

Mistreatment of the Needy

January 26, 2010

Jails are even more helpful than they appear. They keep delinquents and the poor away from the rest of society who god forbid, they might bother. Those who cannot pay bail are kept for unreasonable amounts of time, essentially until they make bail, which can take an entire year.  Oftentimes those who are held would not serve time at all and would simply be placed on probation.

Our jailing system is corrupt. Those who are trying to enact change like pretrial release programs are facing intense competition from bonds companies who “do this for a living” (5). As a country we have become stuck in this unjust cycle, we no longer care about justice being served equally to the poor and impoverished. Our focus has become trained intensely on the wellbeing of ourselves with little regard to the person we are putting down to maintain it. Bondsmen have a duty to watch those who they create bond agreements with, and if they lose them they are supposed to “pay the county the full cost of the bond as a sort of punishment for not keeping an eye on the client” (6). But even these seemingly essential rules, which make the business of brokering bonds seem legitimate, are ignored. The companies make profit without watching the client and so have no motivation to do so.

If the government subsidized efforts such as the pretrial release programs to enable those arrested the chance to leave jail, those released would have “the opportunity to show the court [they’re] sorry” (2).  The strain upon jails would be lessened meaning the development of new enormous jailhouses would be slowed, and justice would be equally distributed between the social classes. As American citizens all are entitled to a trial by jury, but many are being lost between the cracks and are unable to seize this right because of their financial status. The issue of money should not affect anyone’s right to be treated fairly.

Inmates of Today and Eighteenth Century

January 26, 2010

The National Public Radio report, “Bail Burden Keeps U.S. Jails Stuffed With Inmates” describes the problems with posting bail and it effect on the inmates. Many of the inmates are not able to post bails as low as one hundred and fifty dollars. As a result, many of the inmates are sentenced harsher punishments because they were unable to post bail, which looks bad in court. If the inmates were able to post bail, it would cost the jail also nothing compared to the $7,068 for six months in prison per inmate (Sullivan 2).

During an inmate’s stay before their trial, they are not able to good to work and end up losing their jobs because they could not find the money to post bail. As a result, Lubbock, Texas is having to build a jail that is twice the size of the current jail and will cost millions to build (Sullivan 6). The same problem happened at the Newgate prison in London during the eighteenth century. The massive overcrowding resulted in hangings and transportation to America. However, today inmates do not have to play for their stay in jail, during the eighteenth century inmates were required to pay for their stay. As a result, many would go into debt and end up back in prison, which happens today because inmates are not able to get jobs once they are out of jail. Previous convicted criminals have a very difficult obtaining jobs and result to criminal acts again.  Solutions for the overcrowding of today’s jails is to lower bail fees and create programs that would help inmates obtain jobs when they are released.