Updated: May 22, 2019
“For too many people in New Orleans, the difference between spending the night in jail or in their home comes down to what's in their wallet.” Jailing people just because they cannot afford bail does not make anyone safer. A joint op-ed written by Saints players Demario Davis and Benjamin Watson was recently published on Nola.com about ending the money bail system.
“In 2015, New Orleans spent $6.4 million to keep people in jail who couldn't pay their bond. That money could have been used to fund our struggling educational system, to support job training, or provide affordable housing - all things that keep people out of jail.” Davis and Watson wrote about the overwhelming sadness they felt during their Listen and Learn Tour in which they witnessed bail hearings at the Criminal District Court of New Orleans.
Poverty is treated as a punishment in a world where rich people can buy their way out of serious crimes while the poor sit in jail for lack of bail money. Follow the Money of Mass Incarceration from Prison Policy Initiative. Families and taxpayers spend more than $180 billion a year on companies profiting off of prisoners. Rather than improve public safety or reform behavior, the system exacerbates income disparity at the expense of the people.
Policy choices worsens inequality, which directly extends into the criminal justice system. Lowering mass incarceration rates could begin with ending money bail. Many laws and regulations such as the money bail system divide the entire nation into classes, enabling wealthy people to profit off of labor from lower income workers. The system in action can be summed up by The Washington Post’s report last year on how a Louisiana sheriff argues against releasing prisoners that can be worked, drawing slavery comparisons.
Steve Prator, the sheriff of Caddo Parish, described state prisoners as a “necessary evil to keep the doors open” at the jail his office runs. Among those are “the ones that you can work, that’s the ones that can pick up trash, the work release programs,” Prator said. “In addition to the bad ones, and I call these bad, in addition to them, they’re releasing some good ones that we use every day to wash cars, to change oil in our cars, to cook in the kitchens, to do all that where we save money,” he said. Louisiana has a long way to go in making progress.