Conservative Support for the Pretrial Integrity & Safety Act
Innocence is not sufficient to escape the brutality of detention
The most crippling and widely accepted component of our criminal justice system is pretrial detention.
Of the numerous police stops performed daily, those which result in detainment carry devastating financial, social and psychological consequences; altering the courses of the lives of men, women and their families even though we declare them to be innocent. Many people have come to accept that the criminal justice system is broken, but much of the nation’s attention is drawn to law enforcement practices, prison conditions or reentry. These efforts are laudable, but logically, the point of entrance to this broken system is where we ought to prioritize the most reform. Otherwise, we will have effectively sealed our wounds while continuing to stand in the line of fire. Reducing the number of people who enter the system in the first place is the only way to stop the hemorrhaging.
The Pretrial Integrity Act (S.1593) was recently presented to the senate subcommittee on crime and terrorism by Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) last week. Harris and Paul are rationally elevating an issue lost in the shuffle of more salacious policies in a way we’ve not seen before. Their bipartisan proposal strongly emphasizes conservative values of local government control and waste elimination, in addition it promotes experimental innovation by rewarding only the most effective practices. Further it advocates for individual liberties and the preservation of our constitutional rights.
So-called tough-on-crime conservatives across Congress maintain that cash bail is a business like any other and that citizens who utilize it should be subject to its terms as they would for any other private service. This argument does not the take judicial or economic context of cash bail into consideration, as a private service whose business is the management of a public judiciary, support for cash bail contradicts an ideology whose principles are supposedly the inalienable rights of a people, over its institutions.
If the hypocrisy were not evident enough, conservatives of all breeds should be concerned with pretrial detention for a few key reasons: First, excessive laws (overcriminalization) are the antagonist of liberty; second, cash bail of any sum is a threat to the eighth amendment; and third, we are increasing the demands on our welfare system because by removing able-bodied persons from the workforce, they return with criminal records that make them unfit for a majority of decent-paying occupations.
Overcriminalization is one underlying cause of the cash bail industry’s massive profits. Regulatory crimes are an ever-growing category of habitual infractions that carry criminal consequences. If you have you ever realized you left your wallet at home after arriving at your destination, or forgot a jury duty summons, you have joined an untold number of citizens who have escaped detainment for a criminal charge. Because of the gross elevation of regulatory infractions to criminal offenses in our country, it is improbable you will ever lead a crime-free life.
“As many as 10 criminal laws dictate the way the way you walk down the street.”
For example, as of 2015, there were as many as 10 criminal laws dictating the way the way you walk down the street in each state. Yes, jaywalking. As it turns out, misdemeanors are not so minor after all, they outnumber felony arrests 10:1. Misdemeanor drug offenses are the most prevalent, but it is every day or ‘quality of life’ misdemeanors that are the most diabolical, because they re-categorize reasonable citizens as dangerous criminals. Misdemeanors such as disorderly conduct, loitering, traffic violations and jaywalking result in arrest 3,000 times per month nationwide. In his book Three Felonies a Day, civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate estimates that the average person unknowingly breaks at least three federal criminal laws every day.
It is the state of the economy that makes our pretrial detention practices especially crippling. In the wake of the worst recession since the Great Depression, today, Americans are mostly poor. It was revealed in a 2017 GOBankingRates survey, that more than half of Americans (57 percent) have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts. As such, we are one unplanned expense away from financial devastation. Nine out of ten people remain in jails until their trial simply because they cannot afford to post bail which can easily exceed $20,000 for as little as an alleged $105 in damages, and that’s just a start.
Hourly employees (79 percent of Americans) do not have the benefit of paid leave even when such leave is planned. Since most people are stuck for one to two months pretrial, detained citizens risk being immediately fired, losing their homes or other property, even custody of their children. Even free citizens pay the price, $14 billion annually is the cost of detainment. An alarming $9 billion of this sum is allocated just to non-violent misdemeanors still awaiting trial.
Finally, even a traditional conservative ought to be outraged at the widespread compliance to a clear violation of our constitutional rights. Stack v. Boyle (1951), dealt directly with the issues of excessive bail, deciding that the courts need to have evidence regarding the situations of each defendant to determine whether they are considered a flight risk. The fact that too many courts mandate cash bail based on the charge with no analysis of the individual defendant is a direct violation of the Eighth Amendment. In the opinion, Chief Justice Vinson states “Such conduct…injects into our own system of government the very principles of totalitarianism…” In summary, the very premise of payment for freedom for violates the American principle of equal access to justice. Even if bail is eventually paid, the time spent in jail (weeks, months, or even years) is time not spent finding legitimate representation, contacting potential witnesses and gathering independent evidence — further impeding our right to due process.
Conservatives should be on board with pretrial diversion because of our inalienable rights, endowed to us by our creator not subject to protection or preservation by means of the free market, and not subject to infringement by the flaws justice system. So long as our constitution stipulates we are to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Whether Judiciary, Legislative or Executive, no government entity can rightfully ignore our constitutional rights and subject innocent citizens to detainment, its unilateral consequences are a sentence in and of themselves.
Conservatives have been disgruntled for decades that Congress needs to cut waste, cease the criminalization of common behavior and uphold the constitution, the proposed Pretrial Integrity Act addresses all of these areas and more. If passed, this single bipartisan bill could be the key to returning our freedom, money and integrity to us.