Our Blueprint for Pre-Trial Fairness

1. End Cash Bail

Like most of our neighbors, we believe decisions about whether to jail someone pre-trial should be based on community safety and well-being, not how much money that person has. Under Minnesota’s law, everyone who is arrested has a right to bail. But Minnesota courts do not have to take into account each defendant’s ability to pay, so judges are allowed to set bail amounts that wildly exceed what people are actually able to afford. In 2021, the average bail request Minnesota Freedom Fund received from Black defendants was $76,816 — nearly twice the average support requested by white defendants and 7.5 times the national median income of Black people across the country who are in jail because they cannot afford their bail.The current system allows judges to circumvent our rights by setting bail amounts that are explicitly designed to keep people jailed pretrial – often based on false and biased assumptions about the relationships between crime, race, and economic class. That means an unhoused person who is arrested for trespassing would likely be jailed for months awaiting trial, while a wealthy person accused of assault would be allowed to go free.The cash bail system does not deliver fairness, it does not deliver public safety, and it prevents our collective well-being by extracting wealth from our communities and removing access to the things that keep people safe: employment, housing, healthcare, and family support. That’s why we’re working at the Legislature to promote legislation that would eliminate the use of cash bail for many offenses.

2. Mandate Pre-Trial Data Reporting

Right now in Minnesota, it is practically impossible to access data – even by public records requests – that would provide a clear and complete picture of the pre-trial system in our state.In the absence of reliable data, the right-wing media machine including pundits, social media influencers, reporters, and lawmakers can fill the vacuum with disinformation designed to stoke fear and teach their base to see many poor people, immigrants, and Black and brown people as “dangerous criminals.” If we want to educate our neighbors about pretrial fairness and inoculate them against racist fear campaigns, we need the facts.Even more urgently, we need accurate and complete data in order to make sound policy. But currently, legislators attempting to lead on the issue of pre-trial fairness lack access to basic statewide data that would allow them to, for example, identify disparities in detention length and bail amount based on the defendant’s race.Our pretrial system impacts individual lives, families, and communities, and it shouldn’t be allowed to operate in the dark. We’re advocating for legislation that would mandate that counties report pre-trial data, including number of people jailed, bail amounts, people’s ability to pay, and more. 

3. Return Bail Money to the Person Who Paid It

Most people would agree that, when someone pays bail for a friend, family member, or neighbor, the court should return their money to them – the person who paid it. But that’s not how the system currently works. In fact, for folks who pay bail for another person, recouping the money requires a time-consuming, complicated, and opaque process that is simply not accessible to most members of our community.Returning bail money to the payer would, of course, simplify our work as a community bail fund. But it’s also a gender equity issue. According to Joshua Page of the University of Minnesota, while many more men than women are jailed pre-trial, women – in addition to being less likely to afford bail, as defendants – are most often the ones engaging bail bondsmen, paying money bails and posting other collateral to guarantee a defendant’s return to court. This extractive process already makes women more vulnerable to the economic impacts of bail. Making sure that the money they do pay is returned directly to them is one step toward repairing this hidden systemic harm and simplifying the public’s financial interactions with the courts.