You know there's a problem with the criminal justice system when nearly half of Americans in jail right now haven't been convicted of anything. They're locked up because of problems with the cash-bail system.
In most states, if you get arrested, the judge will either hold you behind bars without bail or set a cash amount that will have to be paid to get released ahead of your trial. That money is put up to ensure that you will return for trial. And when you do, the bail money gets returned.
Problem is, poorer defendants often can't afford cash bail. That's why nearly half a million people are waiting in jail instead of at home for their trial to begin. In 2009, the median bail for felony defendants was $10,000. So it's not surprising that so many people struggle to come up with enough cash for their release. In fast, only 14 percent of New York City defendants were able to pay bail at their initial hearing in 2014.
But many get out before going to trial through another option: accepting a plea deal. Those deals are appealing to people who can't afford to spend time behind bars because they have kids or other obligations that cannot be set aside while they wait for their trial. However, plea deals leave a permanent mark on their criminal records, which makes everything from getting a job to taking out a loan much more difficult. And that burden is particularly difficult on wrongfully accused defendants who simply don't have the time or money to prove their innocence in court.
So what other options are there? Check out some alternatives in this video from Vox: