Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Prisons, Jails, What’s the Difference?

I notice that PBUS is running a story that highlights a statement by a prosecutor saying mass incarceration is an “urban legend.” Since PBUS chose to highlight it, you’d think that the prosecutor’s argument has something to do with jails and bail, but it doesn’t. No, it’s about prisons and sentencing.

I’m always confused when bail people broaden the issue to start talking about who should be in prison and why. You know, depending on the source, only about 3-5% of defendants nationally will ever go to prison. The rest, having spent some short or long period in jail, will come right back into our neighborhoods. Those of us in bail who talk about “mass” or “over” incarceration aren’t necessarily talking about prison, so I’m not sure why PBUS would even care. No, we’re talking about jails – who should be in jail and why.

Frankly, I’m also confused when people who supposedly feel strongly about the right to bail keep bringing up reasons for why they think most people should be locked up. I don’t think that it’s bail agents saying this, even though this latest thing came from PBUS, the “voice of the bail agent.” I think it’s the bail insurance people, who have somehow wrapped up bail reform with the overall dysfunction underlying the conservative versus liberal debate in America. But really, the fact that PBUS would say that most people need to be locked up goes to a deeper issue, which is the fact that bail insurance people apparently don’t know very much about bail.

That prison/jail error isn’t unique to bail insurance companies; it’s just that they should know better. For example, not too long ago, after Dwyane Wade’s cousin was shot, a bunch of people on a news show I was watching were complaining about sentencing. Three or four different people lamented the fact that the suspects who shot Wade’s cousin shouldn’t have even been out of prison to begin with – apparently, they had been released early for different reasons. Ultimately, though, the reporter asked someone what they were going to do to solve the problem, and he said, “We’re going to ask for higher bond amounts.” I expect this kind of solution from people who don’t know anything about bail.

But do you get it? It was a sentencing issue, and people thought they could somehow solve it through bail. But you don’t solve sentencing issues through bail. And a lot of people, including, apparently, the bail insurance dudes, somehow think that you can. For whatever reason, I think the insurance companies just don’t like people. They certainly don’t like criminals. And I think they have an honest belief that these people need to be punished for a really long time. But what they don’t know is that bail is not the place to do that.

I can deal with a bail agent who tells me that he believes in the right to bail so much that even the highest risk and most violent defendant deserves to be able to mount a defense outside of jail. What I can’t deal with is a bail insurance company simultaneously saying that nobody is non-violent and that we need to lock everyone up, but then fighting to release everyone so long as they have money. It’s like they’re saying, “We really love bail, except for all those pesky releases.”

Bail agents, I don’t think that the insurance companies or the overpaid lobbyists they hire really even know your core beliefs. As I’ve said before, you guys were the answer when America faced a serious jail over-incarceration issue back in the 1800s.  We’re facing a similar issue today, and you could be part of that answer, too. Unfortunately, the insurance people don’t know how even to begin to talk about it. Apparently, they’re thinking about prisons, when they should be thinking about jails.