One of the reasons that the United States has such a disproportionately high prison population is that a lot of people just can’t afford to avoid jail once they are accused of a crime.

Although it’s law in most states that judges should set bond that defendants can actually afford, this isn’t often the case. Cook County is now one of a handful that are working to reconcile this glaring flaw in the criminal justice system. 

The Chicago Tribune reports that, beginning Sept. 18, judges will no longer be able to set bonds that non-dangerous defendants can’t afford to pay. Instead, defendants will be interviewed about their financial resources previous to trial to give judges an idea of what they’ll be able to pay.

People currently sitting in jail with astronomical bonds will also be able to challenge to have them reset once the rule goes into effect.

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“There is often no clear relationship between the posting of a cash bond and securing the safety of the community or the appearance of a defendant,” Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said in a statement Monday. “As a result, far too many people have been detained pre-trial because they are poor and unable to post even minimal amounts for bond.”

Cara Smith, chief policy officer for Sheriff Tom Dart, says time will tell if the new rule helps decrease the population of Cook County jail, which has been overcrowded for quite a while.

Smith says that on any given day, 400 people are detained simply because they can’t pay $1,000 cash. It also costs $160 a day, or $60,000 per year, to house someone in jail. Once you start looking at the bottom line, pretty much everyone will likely agree that this change is for the best. Sadly.

Photo via Flickr

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