The Human Cost of Cash Bail

In the past 20 years, increases in pretrial detention have accounted for the majority of jail growth in the United States. The human cost is vast and intergenerational.

Pretrial detention exposes people to increased risk of physical and sexual violence, and it jeopardizes employment, housing, education, and even child custody. Held in jail while legally presumed innocent, people are 30% more likely to plead guilty simply to go home.

On any given night, nearly half a million people in the United States face these daunting prospects for one reason: they can’t afford cash bail.

Robin Steinberg urged the legal industry to adopt a more humane, equitable, and effective pretrial alternative. While providing access to bail funding for those without sufficient resources may help in the short term, she advocated for civil discourse around real systemic reform to stop the two-tiered judicial system.

Speaker Bio

Robin Steinberg is the founder and CEO of The Bail Project, an unprecedented national effort to combat mass incarceration by reshaping the pretrial system. The organization manages a national revolving bail fund designed to provide bail assistance and pretrial support at scale while collecting data and stories to demonstrate the viability of a more humane, equitable and cost-effective alternative to cash bail. Since launching through The Audacious Project in 2018, it has opened sites in nine high-need jurisdictions.

Over a 35-year career as a public defender, Robin represented thousands of low-income people in over-policed neighborhoods and founded three high-impact organizations: The Bronx Defenders, Still She Rises and The Bronx Freedom Fund. Robin is a frequent commentator on criminal justice issues and has contributed opinion pieces to The New York Times, The Marshall Project and USA Today. Her publications have appeared in leading law and policy journals, including NYU Review of Law & Social Change, Yale Law & Policy Review and Harvard Journal of African-American Public Policy. Robin is a Gilbert Foundation Senior Fellow of the Criminal Justice Program at UCLA School of Law.