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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: October 22, 2019 11:58 AM
From: Senator Daylin Leach
To: All Senate members
Subject: Ending Pre-Trial Jailing for Failure to Pay Bail
Soon I will introduce legislation to end pre-trial detention for failure to make bail in Pennsylvania.

On any given day in the United States, hundreds of thousands of people who have not been convicted of a criminal offense are incarcerated. They are incarcerated because they fail to make bail. This is unfair, discriminatory, enormously expensive, and destructive to those individuals and their families. Ultimately, this practice makes our society less safe.

The people most likely to be unable to make bail are poor people, since wealthy people who are charged with criminal offenses simply pay their bail. Ironically, people who are wealthy are, on average, assigned less expensive bail than poorer people despite being charged with the same offenses. The bail bias even extends to race; people of color are subject to disproportionately higher bail than white people.

People who sit in jail for months awaiting trial often lose their jobs and children, even if they are eventually acquitted of the offenses with which they have been charged. After spending every day surrounded by other inmates, the acquitted citizens must return to their now shattered lives. At that point, they have few options for employment and are more likely to commit a criminal offense than they would have been had they not been confined to jail for failure to make bail in the first place. Our tax dollars are used to cause this – a tragic failing of public policy that harms all of us.

The traditional argument for bail is that it is necessary to secure attendance at trial. We now know how untrue that is. Washington D.C. has virtually eliminated monetary bail, but their flight rates have not changed and in some instances, have improved. Other jurisdictions, including some in Pennsylvania, have made similar tweaks to their bail systems and achieved similar results. If bail is ineffective at securing future appearances at trial, there really is no justification for it.

Specifically, my bill will:
  • Eliminate pre-trial detention for failure to make bail.
  • Permit judges to set monetary bail, which would remain subject to forfeiture if the defendant failed to appear. While this could not be used as the basis for pre-trial detention, the defendant could still be subject to collection procedures for failing to appear.
  • Permit judges to detain a defendant pre-trial if the judge finds the defendant has a history of flight, is charged with a capital crime, or is a danger to themselves or the community. To determine whether the defendant is a danger to themselves or to the community, judges may only consider the current charge and past convictions.
Please join me in supporting this important legislation.

If you have questions about this legislation, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Introduced as SB918