Let’s clear something up right away: Bail and money bail are not the same thing. Bail refers to any condition of pretrial release. Lots of conditions of release have nothing to do with money; supervision and monitoring, for instance. It’s money bail, specifically, that requires someone to pay an amount of money to get released pretrial, making a person’s financial resources a determining factor in whether or not that person sits in jail.
The bail system in Baltimore relies almost exclusively on money bail. Last spring, I interviewed 13experts on the Baltimore bail system, and I asked all of them the following question:
What is the purpose of bail?
What I heard over and over again was this: Bail is supposed to do two things. One: make sure that someone comes back to court for their trial. Two: protect public safety.
Wait a second. How does a system that relies on money bail protect public safety? Money bail doesn’t keep violent people locked up; it just keeps poor people locked up. People who may pose a threat to public safety can still get out of jail; they just need to have the money to do it.
And that’s just one of many problems when it comes to bail in Baltimore.