Maui Time

You need to read ACLU Hawaii’s new report on bail reform

Bail reform is one of those civil justice issues that’s finally getting a lot more attention nationwide. I mean, even Jay-Z has written about it.

“If you’re from neighborhoods like the Brooklyn one I grew up in, if you’re unable to afford a private attorney, then you can be disappeared into our jail system simply because you can’t afford bail,” Jay-Z (Shawn Carter) wrote in this June 16, 2017 Time magazine article. “Millions of people are separated from their families for months at a time–not because they are convicted of committing a crime, but because they are accused of committing a crime.”

On Jan. 31, ACLU Hawaii released a new 37-page report on the need for bail reform in Hawaii. Titled “As Much Justice As You Can Afford–Hawaiiʻs Accused Face an Unequal Bail System” and largely written and researched by ALCU Hawaii Legal Fellow Ainsley Dowling, the report offers both chilling statistics and insightful analysis on why our system of cash bail is so unjust.

Here are just a few excerpts from the report:

• “With the average bail amount for a class C felony on Oahu being $20,000, it’s understandable why most people can’t afford it.”

• During the first semester of 2017, “circuit courts in Hawai‘i set money bail as a condition of release in 88 percent of cases with only 44 percent of people managing to eventually post the amount of bail set by the court.”

• “[I]n 91 percent of cases in Hawai‘i, initial money bail simply mirrors the amount set by the police in the arrest warrant.And that amount is based solely only on the crime charged.Thus, initial money bail determinations are overwhelmingly being made without any individualized consideration of flight risk, ability to pay, or danger to the community, resulting in some of the longest lengths of pretrial detention in the country.”

• “In Hawai‘i, the consequences of pretrial detention fall disproportionately on Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, who are more likely to be arrested, detained, and unable to afford money bail.”

• “Even just a few days of pretrial detention can lead to loss of employment, housing, and custody of children, as well as an increase in debt if the upfront bond was borrowed from a bail bond company.”

• “There are just too many people in jail, and not just nationally. Around half of the people sitting in Hawaii’s jails have not been convicted of the crime for which they have been charged.”

• “The United States currently incarcerates 2.3 million people in our prisons and jails; 443,000 of those people behind bars (about 20%) have not been convicted of any crime and are merely awaiting trial.”

• “The United States spends over $13.6 billion on pretrial detention each year.To incarcerate a single individual, the State of Hawai‘i spends about $53,290 annually, which is roughly around $60 million dollars per year for about 1,100 pretrial detainees in Hawai‘i.”

• “Six out of nine correctional facilities are over design capacity, and four are over ‘operational capacity,’ meaning people behind bars exceed ‘the number of inmates that can be accommodated based on a facility’s staff, existing programs, and services.’”

• “Compared to jails nationwide, Hawai‘i jails have extraordinarily long lengths of stay for pre-trial arrestees. In 2014, a report on Justice Reinvestment in Hawai‘i noted that OCCC had the longest jail lengths of stay among large counties across the country for people ultimately released under non-financial conditions. Of the 39 counties considered across the country, 32 were able to release arrestees under non-financial conditions in 15 days or fewer, but Honolulu’s average lengths of stay for the same type of arrestee was 71 days.”

• “[A]rrestees in Hawai‘i who are ultimately released without having to pay money bail are still held in jail–at tremendous cost to the state–for almost three months; while the average time in similar jurisdictions on the mainland is two weeks.”

• “[U]se of risk assessment tools for pretrial determinations has the potential to perpetuate existing social inequalities.”

• “Even though Hawai‘i law and due process require that at a minimum, ability to afford money bail be considered, our research shows that ability to pay is rarely, if ever, considered in determining the appropriate bail amount.”

Click here to read the ACLU Hawaii report.

Photo: Barnellbe/Wikimedia Commons