It’s time to stop criminalizing poverty and end cash bail.

Mike Schmidt
Nov 12, 2019 · 3 min read

When a person is arrested, the judge essentially considers three questions when deciding whether to hold them in jail until their trial:

(1) Are they an immediate danger to the community?

(2) Are they going to come back to court?

(3) Do they have $500?

One of these questions makes no sense. Whether a person can scrape together $500 tells you nothing about whether they’re a danger to society.

That’s why I believe it’s time to stop asking this misleading question and end cash bail in Multnomah County. Let me tell you why…

Mike Schmidt talking with supporters
Mike Schmidt talking with supporters
Mike Schmidt (left)

For those barely making ends meet, a few tickets, or even one fine of a few hundred dollars, can start a spiral of debt. If you can’t put together the money to post your bail, you remain behind bars until the day of your trial — often months later. This could be enough to cost you your job, your home, or both. It’s also frequently enough to make you accept a plea agreement and give up your right to a trial, just so you can get back home.

On the other hand, a wealthier person can post their bail. If that person is dangerous or unlikely to come back to court, our community is put at risk.

That’s why if I am elected District Attorney, I plan to advocate for getting rid of cash bail and stop penalizing defendants for being poor.

I was surprised and disappointed at the first Multnomah County District Attorney candidate forum to learn that I am the only candidate for this office who is committed to doing that.

Every day, people are held in county jails for minor crimes because they lack the resources to post the cash bail that is ordered at the request of the prosecuting attorney.

The majority of the people swept up in the justice system are not wealthy. Many are also battling addiction, mental illness, or both. These folks are often barely making ends meet. They are scrambling to put food on the table, put gas in the car, and keep a roof over their heads.

For these Oregonians, a month or even a weekend stuck in jail can be devastating. They lose jobs, miss treatment appointments, weaken their connection to their communities, and lose their housing. In the case of our houseless population, these consequences are often even more severe. They can end up losing their possessions, their pets, and worse. A sentence of “time served” or even an outright acquittal is cold comfort to a person forced to rebuild their life all over again.

It’s important to remember that those held in jail pre-trial have not been convicted of any crime. They have not had the opportunity to be tried by a jury of their peers. They simply don’t have enough cash to pay their way out. In essence, they are being punished for being poor.

If the only reason a defendant is being held in jail is because they don’t have the money to bail out, they should be released. As District Attorney, I will work with the County Commission to prioritize the development and investment of resources in pretrial services that give people the tools they need to live and succeed.

I’m heartened to see a serious discussion about eliminating cash bail has already developed at the local and national level. Several of our sister states have already taken significant steps to end this practice, and almost all leading Democratic presidential candidates have signaled their support for these policies. The conversation is moving in the right direction nationally, and it needs to do so right here in Oregon, too.

I’m committed to working with the state legislature to modernize Oregon law and end the cash bail system, and I would consider this issue to be a core priority of my time as District Attorney. Cash bail doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make our communities safer. It doesn’t reduce crime. It lets dangerous people back in the community, and keeps poor people unnecessarily locked in jail.

I believe the cash bail system is wrong. If I’m elected Multnomah DA, I’ll do everything I can to end it.


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