By Rebecca Pirius
Celebrities—are they really just like us? Fans of Aunt Becky (“Full House”) and Lynette Scavo (“Desperate Housewives”) were dismayed to learn allegations of the actresses’ involvement in the highly publicized college admissions bribing scandal. Details of bribes, fake athletic scholarships, and cheating on college entrance exams have inundated the news.
One detail—though not as highly publicized—did not go completely unnoticed. After Lori Loughlin was released on $1 million bond and Felicity Huffman on a $250,000 bond, writer Leah Carroll didn’t mince words in an article at Refinery29.com, “College Admissions Favors Rich People—& So Does Cash Bail.” when she noted:
"There are few other aspects of American society that so drastically illuminate the vast difference between the way that those with financial means and those without live their lives than the world of higher education. Arguably the other sector where the divide is as clear is the world of criminal justice, and in this story, those two worlds have come together in surprising ways."
The issues of bail and wealth-based detention in the criminal justice system are not new. Just this month, a federal district judge ruled that San Francisco’s system of bail schedules violates the right of poor defendants and does nothing to protect public safety. The judge went as far as to say the bail schedule “merely provides a ‘Get Out of Jail’ card for anyone with sufficient means to afford it.” Last year, the focus was on Harris County, Texas. In ruling the county’s bail practices unconstitutional, a judge denounced the bail system as converting a defendant’s “inability to pay into an automatic order of detention.”
State legislatures have also been taking action. The California Legislature made headlines last year when it became the first state to enact legislation that eliminated cash bail entirely. (That legislation is now on hold and its fate will be put before voters in November 2020.)
Also last year, Delaware, Georgia, New Hampshire and Vermont enacted legislation requiring a person’s ability to pay be taken into consideration in pretrial release decisions. Other approaches taken by states include using community supervision as an alternative to bail, allowing courts to waive pretrial supervision fees that defendants cannot afford, and allowing ability-to-pay determinations in setting fines and fees.
This year, the list of states considering legislation related to wealth-based detention and justice is growing, including:
You can learn more about front-end justice reforms in a recent issue of State Legislatures magazine and in NCSL’s pretrial release policy pages.
And, if you’re keeping track of celebrity bail bonds, note not all celebrities are the same. Rapper R. Kelly was unable to post bond in his recent case involving 10 counts of criminal sexual abuse. So a fan posted the $100,000 for him.
Rebecca Pirius is a senior policy specialist in NCSL's Criminal Justice Program.