The Inhumanity of Cuyahoga County's Criminal Justice System

September 2019
Steve Norris

The Cuyahoga County jail has been in the national news with 9 deaths and nearly 60 attempts at suicide. Serial Podcast season 3 was recorded in Cleveland and gave an in depth look at the criminal justice system and how so many wind up in jail.1

The Coalition to Stop the Inhumanity at the Cuyahoga County Jail has 10 demands,2 including swift implementation of bail reform: “Honor the county’s commitment to reforms by centralizing bail hearings, investing in comprehensive pretrial services, establishing uniform bond schedules (county-wide), and releasing anyone held for a low-level offense on personal recognizance.”

Despite all the demands for reform, the jail remains hundreds over capacity. The US Marshall's office reports inhumane conditions at the jail, including eating moldy food and not getting necessary medications. Frequent red-zoning or lockdowns happen due to understaffing. Excessive bail and pretrial detention lead to overcrowding.3

When people think of bail, they often assume that the money put down to get out of jail will be refunded when showing up for trial. With bail bonds, however, the accused typically pays 10% non refundable to a bail bonds company.This money is permanently gone, leaving families paying fees and loan installments even after the case is over. Things put up for collateral, like a house, can be lost.

What makes bail bonds more lucrative and unfair is that the risk remains with the person who takes out the bond. This is different than other forms of insurance like auto or home insurance that transfer the risk from the insured to the insurance company. The industry makes a $2 billion profit on $14 billion of bonds issued each year. It is also concentrated with 25,000 bail bond companies relying on only about 10 insurers.4 Bail reform efforts in the Ohio legislature faltered under the heavy lobbying from the bail bond industry. House Bill 439 never got out of committee.5

Maximizing profits at the expense of pretrial liberties is an example of corporate rule. To end unlimited special interest spending, we need a 28th Amendment to the US Constitution. Let’s end money as speech and corporate Constitutional rights, so We the People can rule.


  5. m/opinion/2019/08/statewide-bail-reform-needs-the-imprimatur-of-the-ohio-supreme-court-editorial.html
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