Statement On 36th District Court Cash Bail Settlement

Photo By: TJ Samuels @ Uberhubris 

The Detroit Justice Center supports efforts to eliminate the use of cash bail, a practice that consistently keeps many people who are presumed innocent behind bars as they await the resolution of their case simply because they are poor.

In the course of our representation of indigent clients, we have seen how a warrant and arrest for a minor traffic misdemeanor–driving with a suspended license because the person could not afford to pay a previous underlying traffic ticket–can lead to someone spending time in jail because they cannot afford a nominal bound amount. We have also seen countless times how even a few hours of pretrial detention can lead to a person losing their job, home, and stability.

The settlement reached with Detroit’s 36th District Court this week is a monumental, positive development in the fight against unaffordable cash bail. We commend our colleagues at the ACLU of Michigan and their co-counsel organizations for their important advocacy, which will better protect the rights of the clients we serve in Detroit’s 36th District Court. Our team is proud to have supported the ACLU’s efforts in an advisory capacity.

Amanda Alexander, DJC’s Founding Executive Director said of the news: “This settlement is a major step toward ending the unjust practices of cash bail and pretrial detention in Michigan, and we look forward to other jurisdictions following suit. Jailing people on bail criminalizes poverty, upends people’s lives, and does not make communities safer. We welcome this settlement in the 36th District and hope it signals similar changes throughout the state.”

DJC’s Managing Policy Counsel Erin Keith said: “We will continue to fight beside our partner organizations and fellow advocates until our cash bail system in Michigan has been completely overhauled. Rather than relying heavily on piecemeal agreements after lawsuits against individual courts, we must continue to push toward a statewide approach to transforming our bail system, which requires a legislative solution.”

As noted in a recent Detroit Free Press op-ed, written by Phil Mayor, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Michigan: “This [settlement] comes at a critical time for Michigan. Although Detroit’s courts are changing, the abuses we observed statewide continue. A bipartisan group of legislators in Lansing have proposed a package of bills that would reform the system, but those bills have not even advanced out of committee. The Michigan Legislature needs to act to make other court systems follow the 36th District Court’s example by adopting a more just and safe pretrial legal system.”

We support this view and will not stop until we see a day when cash bail is abolished–a day when someone’s lack of wealth or assets does not impede their freedom.