Bob Thompson – Jail Alternatives and Reducing Incarceration Rates

In the video below, Bob Thompson presents a long list of incarceration reduction initiatives that save money and reduce recidivism. This presentation was given at the event “Alternatives to a Bigger Jail: A Public Forum” on Tuesday, April 23, 7:30pm Hotel Vetro, Plaza Room in Iowa City.

Bail Should Be Based on a Person’s Financial Means


The following article was submitted by Sherman J. from Maryland. It refers to the relative cost of bail in Johnson County, Iowa compared with other locations.

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From what I understand, it is unfortunately very common across the country (and probably around the world) for people to be held prior to trial. It is understandable in some cases though. Suppose someone is arrested and charged with a serious crime. If they were simply released on their own recognizance because they promise to return for trial, many defendants would simply disappear — maybe move to another state.

Of course they might still do that if they post bail (or someone posts it for them) but it is at least less likely.

If judges and magistrates are stipulating ‘cash-only’ bail, but the amount is 10% of what the ‘regular’ bail amount would be, then it’s all the same to the defendant. I have no idea if that’s the case, but if so they are just reducing the number of potential clients for bail bond companies.

However, from what I’ve heard it sounds as if that’s not the case — that whatever the amount is, it’s greater than 10% of the usual, customary amount of “regular” bail for a similar alleged offense. In other words, “excessive”.

Of some consolation to those who are found guilty is the fact that judges almost always give credit for time served. Of course, if a person is innocent then they were just locked up for some length of time for no reason. Bad form on the part of the state.

I believe strongly that those found to have been imprisoned wrongfully should be paid by the jurisdiction that is responsible. A certain amount per day. That’s at a minimum. If it can be shown that there was any negligence; improper actions on the part of the prosecution; ineffective/incompetent defense; police corruption (racism, planted evidence), etc, then those responsible should be tried, convicted, and thrown into jail themselves — with the general population.

There are of course cases of wrongful arrest, and they should dealt with as well, but in cases where the arrest was reasonable and the charges legitimate, then we get into balancing the community’s rights vs. the rights of the accused. It does seem reasonable to me for the court to demand some assurance that the person will return for trial if they are released. My impression is that judges do try to assess the defendant’s financial situation and set bail accordingly. In other words, Bill Gates would likely have to pay more than a bus driver. If that’s done correctly, it could be argued that it’s a fair system.

A related subject is fines. In my opinion, fines should be determined by a person’s wealth & income. Some Scandinavian countries do this. I recall reading that the CEO of Nokia got a speeding ticket and the fine was something like US$100,000. If he makes/made about $500 to $1,000 times what the average citizen makes then that fine seems perfectly reasonable to me. The point of course is that it should be the same for everyone. So a parking ticket would be a percentage of a person’s income and/or net worth — not a fixed amount. As it is, for a certain segment of society, fines are little more than an inconvenience. $200 is a big chunk of my monthly pension benefit, but to the coach of the Hawkeyes it’s what, maybe 0.01% of his annual salary? People with six-figure incomes, or higher, can go through life disregarding many laws with almost complete impunity.

If bail is set reasonably and fairly so that it represents the same ‘bite’ for everyone then I’m ok with it. Some people still won’t be able to pay (or find someone to pay for them) but at least it wouldn’t be a situation where bail is set at a fixed amount where the top 10% (say) walk and the bottom 40% rot in jail.

Then there is that whole “speedy trial” thing in the Sixth Amendment. I’m not sure if there are any fixed limits. In other words, is the state forced to release people if they cannot try them within X number of days?

Also, Amendment VIII — “Excessive bail shall not be required…”.

“Speedy”. “Excessive”. Hmmm…