The Jail System and the Right of Bail

The jail or penal system of any jurisdiction is an integral part of the criminal justice system as a whole. It is aimed at reducing criminality by incapacitating the offenders, punishing and deterring those who would commit crimes, and rehabilitating offenders. A network of correctional facilities is aimed at punishing, treating and supervising persons who have been convicted of crimes.  In other words, members of society who have been judged guilty of violating laws are punished by being removed from the community and isolated in facilities called jails and correctional facilities. Theoretically speaking, jails and correctional systems are geared towards protecting the public from deviant behavior, punishing those who violate the laws, and hopefully, rehabilitating them before they rejoin the community.

Historically speaking, over the centuries, governments the world over have come up with a penal system that provides certain punishments for certain crimes, and these have, over the years, ranged in harshness and brutality. A jail or a cell in which a prisoner is confined has always been an acceptable practice in most jurisdictions. In these modern times, jail systems are now the norm. Punishment or penalties for crimes have consisted of jail time, and the more severe the crime, the longer the time that should be served. The longest possible time of imprisonment is referred to as LWOP, or life without parole. In these instances, the inmate does eventually die in prison, often of natural causes.

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Of course, there are still other forms of punishment, mostly consisting of fines, and in certain instances reserved for the most heinous of crimes in certain jurisdictions, the penalty of death.

There are a number of ways by which a person finally leaves the jail system and rejoins the community:

  • When a person is released after serving his sentence in full
  • When a person is released early on parole, after serving only a portion of their sentence; this is aimed at the rehabilitation aspect of the penal system, and the person is expected to conform to certain rules and guidelines when allowed back into the community.
  • Being released on bail during pre-trial detention

Bail and Pre-trial Detention

prison-fenceStatistics have shown that majority of the people incarcerated in jails throughout the country consist of those who are waiting for trial. This means that a good number of those people who are being detained and essentially “punished” by jail time are persons who have yet to be convicted and found guilty of any crime.

When a person is arrested, he is put in jail and kept there until the date of his first court hearing. In order to prevent this from resulting in a number of people being kept for unreasonable lengths of time in jail without having been charged of any crime, and without even the benefit of an early court date, it has been prescribed that within at least 48 hours after being arrested, a person should appear in court for his bail hearing. A judge either denies or grants bail depending on the circumstances of each case, and if bail is granted, the amount of bail is set, again depending on the circumstances of each case.

Statistics have also shown that majority of people cannot afford their bail, and most make use of the services of a Amarillo bail bonds company. A bail bondsman agrees to act as surety for the defendant and posts a surety bond on their behalf, in exchange for a fee. The numbers bear out that most people who do get released on bail do so on the strength of a surety bond from a bail bonds company or agency. This means that majority of people picked up by the criminal justice system cannot afford their bail, and it also means that the bail bonds industry is a particularly active and lucrative one.

The choices of people who have limited resources, and who are kept in pre-trial detention, are limited: they can either seek the help of a bail bondsman, or they can opt to remain in jail instead. The irony is that the great number of people who do remain in jail are those who cannot afford bail and are mainly being detained to wait for their trial dates. In other words, a system aimed at punishing, reforming, and rehabilitating criminal behavior is mostly punishing people who have yet to be convicted of any crime in the first place. An even greater irony is that studies have also shown that people who are detained prior to and pending trial are more likely to get the short end of the stick during their trial. They are usually found guilty, and meted out longer sentences, and this has likely to do with the fact that a person in jail cannot prepare as well for his defense as others who have been released on bail. What you have then is a system that punishes people before actually being found guilty of crimes charged, and which goes on to punish them again for not having the financial means to afford their right to bail.