This Saturday morning, September 26, 2020, starting at 11 a.m., the City of Hallsville will hold an event designed to be a fundraiser for the Hallsville Police Department Foundation. The method chosen for the fundraiser is to put several candidates for office—for state representative and for county commissioner—into a mock jail until they raise enough money to “bail” themselves out.
While it is hoped that the day’s event provides much needed funding for the Foundation, the event actually highlights TWO aspects of the criminal justice system for which lack of resources is hugely problematic. The first is the cash bail system and the second is law enforcement itself.
For the fortunate many, the cash bail system is not a personal experience and usually is something only read or heard about—in the news, on a tv program, in a movie. But, for those brought to a county jail upon arrest, the question of bail is of primary importance since, if you can’t pay, you will stay in jail.
The event in Hallsville demonstrates this problem in stark relief. In advance of the event, I asked how much the Foundation hoped to raise from each candidate—the “bail.” I had the resources available and also recognized the Foundation’s needs, so I wrote a private check for $500. But, in the “real world,” what happens to those who lack those resources? What happens to those who have them? The difference is part of the problem.
For many people, it may seem logical and right that if a person is arrested because law enforcement believes that person has violated some statute, that person will be detained in the county jail. But, think about it: Susie and Joey both engage in the same conduct. They are arrested and taken to the county jail. Susie (or maybe Susie’s parents) has the ability to pay. Joey and Joey’s parents do not. Susie goes home pending resolution of her case. Joey sits in jail. As Joey sits in jail, he may lose his job; he and his family may lose their home; if he is in jail longer than 30 days, any federal benefits to which he is entitled, including Veteran’s and SNAP benefits, are suspended. And, remember, Susie and Joey are only detained—the constitutional presumption of innocence still applies to them both. Yet, because of Joey’s lack of financial resources, his situation is much worse than Susie’s.
It was in part because of that disparity that here in Boone County, a group of dedicated people created a Community Bail Fund project. Modeled on efforts begun and having success in other parts of the country, this group provides bail funding for individuals who, like Joey, simply lack the ability to pay.
Much work and discussion is ongoing in Boone County about when and why people should be detained in jail and when alternatives to detention should be considered. For many years, we have been leaders in the state through our use of Adult Court Services, which is intended to investigate and help the court determine that very question. A risk assessment—considering essentially whether the individual poses a risk of harm to the community and whether the individual is likely to show up for court—is done to help the court in making that decision.
Across the country, as well as locally, we are seeing the intersection of these two, interrelated aspects of the detention question. Judges, lawyers, community members and other policy makers are considering where and if a cash bail system is necessary, appropriate and philosophically sound. If the risk assessment process gives judges a data-driven basis for decisions on alternatives to detention, why then, some ask, is cash bail part of the discussion since, by and large, it doesn’t impact either risk of harm or risk of non-appearance. Others note that, in jurisdictions that have abolished the cash bail system, individuals are spending more and more days in jail. The conversation continues, as it should. And, the Hallsville event gives us the opportunity to add to that conversation.
The second issue highlighted by the Hallsville event, and the more readily apparent, is the lack of funding for law enforcement. This is an issue affecting practically every law enforcement agency in the country.
We count on these dedicated men and women to protect us—to serve and defend. We expect them to be available 24/7 every day of the year. Because we haven’t adequately funded social services FOR DECADES, we require law enforcement (and their brothers and sisters in Fire and EMS) to act as mental health professionals, even asking them to save those who might be attempting suicide. Yet, we fail them miserably when it comes to providing them adequate resources. And, I’m not just talking about guns. I’m talking about getting them ALL of the resources they need to do the tasks we pile on their collective plates.
If, for example, we will continue to ask that they respond alone to those in mental health crisis, we must give them access to Crisis Intervention Team training, a 40 hour interactive course that provides them with at least a modicum of skills to de-escalate confrontations and connect individuals with appropriate resources. Access to CIT training doesn’t just mean funding for the training. It means ensuring that, in a one, or two or three-person office, they have the personnel required to allow each member of that office to be out of the rotation for that week-long training.
We MUST support law enforcement. We MUST give them the tools, including training, that will allow them to make the best decisions, that will allow them to protect and defend.