I Spent 14 Months in Jail Because I Couldn’t Pay My Way Out

by Lavette Mayes and Matthew McLoughlinTruthout | Op-Ed –

This story is the eighth piece in the Truthout series, Severed Ties: The Human Toll of Prisons. This series dives deeply into the impact of incarceration on families, loved ones and communities, demonstrating how the United States’ incarceration of more than 2 million people also harms many millions more — including 2.7 million children.

On any given day, more than 7,000 people are incarcerated at Chicago’s Cook County Jail. Stretching over 11 city blocks, Cook County Jail is the largest single-site jail in the United States. Ninety-five percent of the people locked up in Cook County Jail have not been convicted of a crime. They are incarcerated pretrial — and 62 percent of them are there only because they cannot afford to pay a monetary bond.

In Cook County, bond court hearings last a mere 37 seconds on average. In that time, a judge makes bail decisions that reshape the entire course of people’s cases, and often, their lives. For many people, the judge’s decision includes setting a money bond they must pay before they can be released from jail. The amount of that bond — and whether their family or friends can pay it — then determines whether they await their trial in freedom or in a cage.

Felony cases in Cook County commonly take more than a year to resolve, and some take several years. Right now, more than 4,000 people are being incarcerated in Cook County because they cannot pay bonds that were set using less than a minute’s worth of information.

After 24 hours of detention, people’s risks of rearrest and failure to appear for court increase. Just a few days of pretrial detention often severely alter people’s lives. These few days can mean the difference between working or being fired, paying rent or being evicted. After 30 days of pretrial incarceration, people lose access to benefits, such as social security, disability, Medicaid and more. Once a person is released, it can take months for these benefits to be reinstated, leading to a disruption in essential services and further instability.

The impacts of pretrial detention are not limited to the incarcerated individual: they ripple out and affect entire communities. The loss of a financial provider, caretaker or parent has devastating impacts on families and larger communities. Incarcerating people pretrial also increases the likelihood that they will be convicted by a jury or plead guilty. People incarcerated pretrial also receive longer sentences. Since ability to pay a monetary bond is a major cause of pretrial detention, our current system is punishing people simply for being poor.

The number of women incarcerated in local jails in the United States has increased 14-fold since 1970. Across all genders, 99 percent of the increased local jail population in the last 15 years is the result of pretrial incarceration. Nearly 80 percent of these women in jail are mothers, and most are single parents. In addition, Black women and women of color are much more likely to be incarcerated than white women, making up two-thirds of all women in local jails. In 2011, 81 percent of the women who entered Cook County Jail were women of color, and 68 percent were Black women.

Money bond, like all incarceration, is a racialized system of control that disproportionately impacts people of color and particularly Black people. Despite the fact that Black people comprise only 25 percent of Cook County’s population, they make up 73 percent of the people incarcerated in Cook County Jail. Nationally, Black people accused of a crime are the least likely to receive a nonfinancial release and the least likely to be able to post a money bond if given one. The continued use of monetary bond guarantees that racism and disparate treatment remain central parts of our criminal legal system.

Lavette Mayes is a Black single mother of two from the South Side of Chicago. On March 12, 2015, Mayes was arrested for the first time in her life at the age of 45. Initially, her bail was set at $250,000, requiring her to post $25,000 to leave jail. (There is no private, for-profit bail bonds industry in Illinois. Instead, most monetary bonds require payment of 10 percent of the full bond amount directly to the clerk of each Circuit Court. The terms “bail” and “bond” are used interchangeably here.) Nearly a year and a half and two bond reductions later, Mayes’ bond was finally posted by the Chicago Community Bond Fund, a nonprofit revolving bail fund that is working to abolish money bond and end pretrial detention. Mayes’ struggle for freedom exemplifies the difficulties faced by the 60,000 people who experience incarceration in Cook County Jail every year. Here is her story.

read more…..   http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/40971-i-spent-14-months-in-jail-because-i-couldn-t-pay-my-way-out

 

Reprinted with permission from Truthout