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Detroit Reforms Aim to Stop Racial Inequality in Cash Bail Practices

Michigan’s largest district court and bail reform advocates agreed to settle a federal class-action lawsuit over cash bail practices, which activists say routinely and unconstitutionally jail poor and working class defendants despite evidence of their inability to pay, the Associated Press reports. Both sides say the reforms strike at racial inequality in the criminal justice system. On any given day in Detroit, the nation’s Blackest city, nearly three-quarters of those jailed are Black, a proportion much higher than their share of the population. If the reforms narrow that disparity, it could be a model for court systems nationwide, where critics say race and wealth are significant factors in the administration of justice.


“This is a historic agreement that we believe can and should be a template for how courts around the country can adapt their bail practices to what is lawful, constitutional and sensible,” said Phil Mayor of the Michigan American Civil Liberties Union. Chief Judge William McConico of the 36th District Court said settling the class-action lawsuit, filed in 2019, presented an opportunity to show that law enforcement and activists can work together to change the system. The reforms do not bar judges from imposing cash bail, especially if defendants are deemed a flight risk or a danger to the public. However, all Detroit judges and magistrates must say on the record how imposing bail would protect the community or prevent a failure to appear. Judges must also make an on-the-record determination of how much a defendant can afford to pay. The parties agreed that any defendant who is at two hundred percent of the federal poverty level or less is assumed unable to post cash bond.