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Why fixing the US bail system is tricky

Cash bail is great — if you can pay for it.

Every day, nearly half a million Americans spend the night in jail even though they haven’t been convicted of anything. The reason? They can’t afford the cash bail a judge set during a pretrial hearing.

Unlike wealthier defendants who can pay to retain their freedom while their case proceeds to trial, poor defendants remain behind bars waiting for the wheels of justice to turn. As a result, the pretrial process becomes a two-tiered system: one for wealthy individuals who can afford bail and one for those who can’t.

It’s a simple problem, yet finding a solution is anything but easy. Eliminating cash bail reduces the influence an individual’s wealth has on the pretrial process, but finding an adequate replacement has proven difficult.

In some states, a change is underway. California and New Jersey, for example, have recently adopted various levels of bail reform. In many states, that’s meant eliminating cash bail and replacing it with a new system. There’s a problem, though. Reformers are concerned that courts are replacing one biased mechanism with another.

To learn more about what that is and how it’s being evaluated, make sure to watch the video above. To see more of our videos, subscribe to Vox on YouTube.

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