As an Indiana State Senator and attorney, I pride myself on listening to my constituents and making decisions about policy based on evidence and sound reasoning—not political expediency and misleading soundbites.
This is why I voted against House Bill 1300, which targeted charitable, not-for-profit organizations that help Hoosiers who cannot afford bail and why I support The Bail Project’s and ACLU Indiana’s recently filed lawsuit against the Indiana Department of Insurance.
In 2022, legislators, taking both their cues and their checks from the for-profit bail bonds industry, passed a bill that will keep single mothers and people of color in jail for an undetermined amount of time even though they’ve not had their day in court.
As a result, a free program that gets poor people back to court 95% of the time, gets them court reminders, free transportation to their court hearings, and connects them to social services as needed, is restricted in ways that don’t apply to commercial bond companies who don’t provide any of those services but do profit from people who can’t afford their own bond.
A few loud voices and interest groups drove the conversation. Additionally, a recent investigation by The Indianapolis Star demonstrates distorted information, rather than facts, won the day.
Who pays the price for misguided legislation like this? Not The Bail Project, but the people who need their help—some of our poorest neighbors and mostly from our Black communities.
The fundamental tenet of the American judicial system is this: you are innocent until proven guilty. The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and our own state’s constitution both prohibit excessive bail.
But what is “excessive”?
Unfortunately, today’s reality is that rich defendants have the means to escape pre-trial incarceration, but the poor do not; this means the poorest Americans must serve an unjust sentence before being judged by their fellow citizens.
Charitable bail organizations, like The Bail Project, intervene on behalf of people who cannot afford cash bail or the posting of a bond. Unlike for-profit bail bondsmen, The Bail Project receives no money from its clients; and unlike the bail bonds industry, The Bail Project works to connect its clients with essential social services.
Lost in much of this debate is the fact that judges decide a person’s bail amount. They look at the nature of the alleged crime, the defendant’s criminal record, and determine whether to set bail and in what amount. The purpose of bail, the Indiana Supreme Court has stated, “is to ensure the presence of the accused without the hardship of incarceration before guilt has been proven and while the presumption of innocence is to be given effect.”
Looking at this, you would think it irrelevant who pays a person’s bail. So, imagine my surprise when I heard the arguments from my colleagues in the Legislature who fought to restrict charities that post bail for poor folks.
“They should not be able to bail out everybody regardless of the charge!” If so, then why are commercial bond companies already allowed to do this (while making a profit)? Charities like The Bail Project help poor people for free.
“They use our tax dollars to bail people out!” This oft-repeated charge simply isn’t true. Funds from a crime-prevention grant did end up going to The Bail Project, but not one cent of it was used to bail out people accused of a crime.
The hypocrisy of the attack on charitable bail organizations is highlighted in The Star’s investigation of this issue and is on display every time an elected official chooses a sound bite over sound policy.
The Bail Project and ACLU-Indiana are absolutely correct when they assert in their lawsuit that “there is no justification, rational or otherwise” for only restricting charitable bail groups.
Charities like The Bail Project are not a threat to public safety. They are a public service that is needed while we fix the broken cash bail system in which you are better off being rich and guilty rather than innocent and poor.