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Undoing the Bail Myth: Pretrial Reforms to End Mass Incarceration (2019)

Your Honor, Mr. Jones will come back to court. He’s lived in the same apartment with his family for years, works part-time, and is putting himself through school. He is not a flight risk. I ask that you release him and allow him to return to court on his own recognizance.

In five years as a public defender in the Bronx, I gave that pitch - or a variation of it - hundreds of times, trying to convince judges not to set bail on people I represented. The arraignment courtroom, where people were first brought within twenty-four hours of an arrest, was nothing short of chaos. Within minutes of meeting a client, based on whatever little information I could gather in short order, I would appear in front of a judge to make a case for release. Sometimes I had strong facts on my side, such as a mother or family member in the courtroom to demonstrate that this person had ties to the community and wasn’t a flight risk. Other times, especially in cases where the person was homeless, or had multiple prior arrests, I had a lot less to work with.

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