Demanding Monetary Bail Abuses the Poor and Minorities

As a faith leader, I believe that all humans are created in the image of a loving and merciful God. I believe people should be treated with respect and dignity. Jesus stood up in the temple and began his ministry by reading from the book of Isaiah. He said: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free" (Luke 4:16-19, New Living Translation). Jesus was sent by God to repair a system that targeted the weak and vulnerable of society.Today, there is no difference. African-Americans are being taken advantage of. I have no tolerance for a system that unnecessarily detains black and brown bodies -- a system that makes people pay for their freedom.Thankfully, prosecutors around the country are starting to push for common-sense bail reform. In Chicago, prosecutor Kim Foxx recently announced that her office would recommend release for most misdemeanor defendants. In Philadelphia, the leading candidate for district attorney has promised to stop cash bail altogether. Here in Texas, District Attorney Kim Ogg in Houston filed a brief supporting bail reform. As the brief explains: "It makes no sense to spend public funds to house misdemeanor offenders in a high-security penal facility when the crimes themselves may not merit jail time."It's a shame that in the face of this emerging consensus on bail reform, Dallas County's newly appointed district attorney, Faith Johnson, sits on the sidelines. If Johnson truly believes she is "all the way in the 22nd century" on criminal justice reform, it is crucial that she declare a new, fairer policy on bail.The inhumane bail system discriminates against the poor and people of color, leaving them behind bars while wealthier offenders are able to purchase their freedom. Poorer offenders must sit in jail and wait for months and even years, cut off from their families and communities. Nationwide, African-American defendants are held at nearly five times the rate of white defendants and receive significantly higher bail amounts, making freedom even harder to obtain. This is a system that isn't just unfair; it is nefarious and corrupt.Money bail doesn't make our communities safer. Prosecutors' use of money bail decreases public safety without ensuring defendants show up in court. Studies have shown that people who remain in jail more than 24 hours before their release are less likely to appear than similar defendants who are detained for shorter periods. Research also shows that people detained pretrial for low- or mid-level crimes are more likely to commit new crimes upon their release than if they were allowed to remain free.Our bail system takes advantage of the poor. To make them pay for their freedom is criminal in itself. This cruel, harsh cycle must be broken. I absolutely applaud Foxx and her team's push for bail reform in Chicago. We deserve nothing less in Dallas. We must seek the complete overhaul and reform of a prison bail system that has no interest in helping humanity but only to make dollars. The word of God says, "A person who gets ahead by oppressing the poor or by showering gifts on the rich will end in poverty" (Proverbs 22:16, NLT). In our broken system, there are absolutely no winners. Johnson calls her office "the people's office." It is time for her to live up to this self-anointed title and reform Dallas' broken money bail system.The Rev. Jaime Kowlessar is the senior pastor of Dallas City Temple, a Seventh-Day Adventist church. Email: citytemplesda@gmail.comWhat's your view?Got an opinion about this issue? Send a letter to the editor, and you just might get published.  Continue reading...

Copyright The Dallas Morning News
Contact Us