Skip to main content

Unnecessary incarceration: What are the consequences?

Have you ever been in a room of highly educated individuals discussing sentencing and bail reform in California?  I was just recently.  On Tuesday November 27, 2012 I attended the Little Hoover Commission hearing as an expert witness.  The conversation was extremely dynamic and thought provoking with significant dialogue on the fairness and constitutionality of the uniform bail industry in California.  Despite the varying intricacies discussed there was a glaring omission: the collateral consequences of unnecessary incarceration.

California has an un-sentenced jail population of approximately 70%.  Although difficult to determine a significant portion of these individuals are confined solely because they cannot afford to post bail.  These individuals do not present a flight risk or a threat to public safety, but do not have the economic resources to remain in the community prior to their hearing.  Detaining individuals that do not pose a threat to public safety results in deleterious effects on those individuals' lives.  

recent story of a San Franciscan deeply affected by pretrial detention and the bail industry revealed expansive consequences of unnecessary incarceration.  This individual, like so many others, lost his employment, apartment, and vehicle as result of the ten months he spent incarcerated in county jail.  The result of incarceration, even for a short period in a local county jail, has significant effects on the individual, their families, and the community.    

Why is it that in this discussion of the state bail system, the human impact of inability to pay bail amounts was neglected?  Perhaps the human effects of incarceration are too easy to dismiss because the defendant is seen as the "other."  Or it may be that these effects are too heart wrenching to examine.  Regardless of the reason, unforeseen collateral consequences of unnecessary incarceration are essential in the discussion of promoting long-term public safety.

Housing, employment, and transportation are things that can be abruptly terminated as result of an individual's time confined in local jail.  It is these exact same things that contribute to a formerly incarcerated individual's successful reentry to the community.  So, in order to achieve the goals of long-term public safety it makes sense to maintain and protect these connections to pro-social activities such as employment.

It is easy to perceive inmates as the "other" and reduce them to villains that must be held behind bars, but the reality is many inmates in local county jails are non-violent and are not a threat to public safety.  So, as policy makers and advocates continue to examine the uniform bail industry in California the discussion of collateral consequences should not be forgotten.  

Keywords: bail industry, Kate McCracken, pretrial

Posted in Blog, Sentencing

California Stentencing Institute screenshot

California Sentencing
Institute (CASI)

Explore how California’s 58 counties send their residents to correctional institutions with interactive maps, charts, and downloadable data.

Connect with us

      YouTube

Contribute to CJCJ

Make a difference to youth and adults trying to get their lives back on track.

Join our mailing list

Get regular updates and news delivered to your inbox. We won’t share your information with anyone else.