Policing

Rep Felix introduces bill to end cash bail to eliminate racist, anti-poor judiciary policy

“…ending cash bail is not what causes risk to the public,” said DARE’s Anusha Alles. “What is hazardous to the public is the relentless war on poor people, the relentless financial hardship that people are going through.”
Photo for Rep Felix introduces bill to end cash bail to eliminate racist, anti-poor judiciary policy

Published on March 4, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist

Cash bail, posting some sort financial security in exchange for the release of an arrested person pending future court appearances, criminalizes poverty because those who don’t have the required money are imprisoned for weeks awaiting trial while those with money are released. This time in prison has devastating effects on a person who has not yet been convicted of a crime, as they lose jobs, custody of their children and fall hopelessly behind on rent and bills.

On Thursday night, towards the very end of a five hour hearing in the Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee, Representative Leonela Felix (Democrat, District 61, Pawtucket) introduced H7353, a bill that will eliminate cash bail. Sadly, the bill was introduced so late at night that the majority of people prepared to speak on its behalf were unable to testify.

One person who did testify was Anusha Alles, speaking on behalf of DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality). I’ve included Anusha Alles’ must read testimony below:

“We’re an organization that’s been fighting for racial and economic justice in Rhode Island for over three decades and I’ve been waiting here for five hours to talk about this because this bill really means a lot to us and to our community. Cash bail is a racial and economic justice issue every day in Rhode Island. There are people sitting in jail, in prison, who have not been convicted of anything. And when I say they’re sitting in prison, I’m saying people are sitting in literal cages in unsanitary conditions, losing their families, losing custody of their kids, losing their dignity, their wellbeing, their mental health, simply because they do not have money. And this is not just for big amounts. This is for small amounts.

“We work with the Fang Collective bail fund. We coordinate to make sure that people have bail. People reach out to us for amounts like $300, $150, a hundred dollars. And it’s not for major offenses. It’s for things like misdemeanors which are often related to poverty. Cash bail is an inherently unjust system because it frees those with money and it incarcerates those without who are disproportionately people of color. And there’s really no moral justification for a system like this because releasing people without bail does not change the likelihood that they will return for a court date. There’s data from New Jersey and Washington DC that demonstrates that the rates of appearance stayed the same when they implemented reforms like this. I would emphasize that ending cash bail is not what causes risk to the public. What is hazardous to the public is the relentless war on poor people, the relentless financial hardship that people are going through.

“I struggled and struggled to put this into words. It’s hard to communicate how much our communities are struggling. DARE is based on the south side, we’re working with Black and Latino communities, low income communities who have experienced decades of state neglect, under resourcing and the blight of mass incarceration. This bill would mean so much to our community because people are really struggling. I urge you to pass this without delay for the sake of our people and in solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of people across the country who are suffering behind bars because they cannot afford bail.”

According to Representative Felix, “Pre-trial liberty should not be a question about how much money you have in your bank account [or] how much money you can access because of your credit.” Further, noted Representative Felix, “the imposition of cash bail is arbitrary and is imposed more harshly on people of color.” [Citation here, here, and here.]

Here’s the fact sheet on cash bail Representative Felix handed out.

Besides DARE, the legislation is also supported by the Rhode Island Working Families Party, the Rhode Island ACLU, General Treasurer and United States Congressional candidate) Seth Magaziner and the Rhode Island Public Defenders Office.

Speaking on behalf of the Public Defender’s Office, Michael DiLauro pushed back against the written testimony of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, the only testimony presented to the committee opposing passage of the bill.

The bill was held for further study.

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