Rep. Mana Abdi (D-Lewiston) has submitted a bill that would end the practice of cash bail, a longtime goal of progressive criminal justice reform advocates in Maine.
The practice of cash bail is used by the U.S. criminal justice system to ensure that defendants in criminal cases will return for court hearings after they’ve been released from police custody.
In a cash bail system, an individual who has been arrested and charged with a crime posts an amount of money, typically determined through negotiations between their attorney and a judge, and that money is held until the completion of hearings.
The arrangement provides an incentive for a defendant to attend subsequent court hearings while also allowing them to avoid extended pre-trial detention, return home, and, if they have job, work — but only if they can afford bail.
Often times, when individuals do not have sufficient cash to post their bail, they will enlist the service of a bail bondsman.
Bondsman will, for a non-refundable fee, post bail on behalf of defendants using collateral, which can include a car, jewelry, or even a comic book collection.
If the defendant blows off a court appearance, the bondsman is on the hook for the full amount of the bail, but they will use the posted collateral to recoup the losses.
Cash bail systems have come under attack from progressive activists who say the practice disproportionately harms low-income and minority defendants.
The liberal Brennan Center estimates that more than half a million Americans are stuck in pre-trial detention because they cannot afford to post cash bail or contract for the services of a bail bondsman.
According to the Center, defendants who spend extended periods of time in pre-trial detention are more likely to be sentenced to prison.
But supporters of cash bail say the practice is necessary to provide an incentive for defendants to return to court and go through the criminal justice process.
Illinois became the first state to end cash bail in Feb. 2021, and some American cities have experimented with the idea.