Cash bail strips wealth from low-income communities

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by Colvin Grannum

New Yorkers, including elected officials like Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders, are increasingly recognizing that cash bail helps drive mass incarceration. As these officials work to persuade their colleagues to enact deep and necessary changes to our criminal justice system, they should pay attention to an aspect of cash bail that gets too little notice: its devastating economic impact on low-income families and communities, especially those of color.

Take the example of Angela Dixon*. Last year, Ms. Dixon, who is African-American, used her savings and a small business loan to open a hair salon. She hired another African-American woman to work with her. They did not earn a lot, but the business was growing. One evening, Ms. Dixon got into an argument with a neighbor who was blasting music after midnight. She called the police. When the police arrived, they arrested both Ms. Dixon and the neighbor. A judge imposed $3,500 bail because Ms. Dixon had a criminal record as a teenager. With all her savings invested in her business, she could not afford to pay bail. Stuck behind bars on Rikers Island, Ms. Dixon defaulted on her loan and lost her business, and her employee lost her job.

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