Every year, thousands of innocent people are sent to jail only because they can’t afford to post bail, putting them at risk of losing their jobs, custody of their children — even their lives.
...‘‘Criminal justice,’’ President Obama said in a speech to the N.A.A.C.P. last month, ‘‘is not as fair as it should be. Mass incarceration makes our country worse off, and we need to do something about it.’’ Two days after the speech, Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, meeting with convicts in a corrections institution in El Reno, Okla. The setting was dramatic, but mass incarceration isn’t actually a federal problem. Of the 2.2 million people currently locked up in this country, fewer than one in 10 is being held in a federal prison. Far more are serving time in state prisons, and nearly three-quarters of a million aren’t in prison at all but in local city and county jails. Of those in jails, 60 percent haven’t been convicted of anything. They’re innocent in the eyes of the law, awaiting resolution in their cases. Some of these inmates are being held because they’re considered dangerous or unlikely to return to court for their hearings. But many of them simply cannot afford to pay the bail that has been set.