Feb 5, 2020
Since the rise of Black Lives Matter and a broader cultural awakening in the United States of just how wildly out of whack, cruel and hyper-punitive our criminal legal system is, modest reforms began to emerge across the United States. The lowest hanging fruit for reforms was to get rid of or radically reduce pretrial cash bail: a system that simply exists to punish the poor for being poor.
20 percent of people in the United States currently incarcerated––76 percent of those in local jails––have not been found guilty of any crime, they are simply awaiting their trial and cannot pay their bail because they cannot afford it. One 2015 study found that people in jail had a net median income of less than $5,000 a year, and are overwhelmingly Black and Latino. Put simply: bail exists not to protect the public, it exists to punish the poor for being poor. In response to this jarring injustice, some states began instituting modest reforms, reserving bail for so-called “violent crimes,” but requiring judges to consider people’s income when setting bail for other offenses. A number of cities across the country began to see reductions in the number of people in jail pretrial.
Unsurprisingly, reform has been met with swift and vicious reaction from pro-carceral forces. Police unions, sleazy politicians, rightwing think tanks, and conservative and liberal media alike prey on propagandized public fears to attack reforms as ushering in a new dystopian era of Escape from New York lawlessness. To do this, among other disingenuous tricks of emotional blackmail, they’ve reanimated one of the oldest in the book, Willie Hortonism: seeking out anecdotal cases of a formerly jailed person who goes on to commit a crime, demagoguing this one example often using racist tropes, and exploiting the media feedback loop to pushback and curtail movements for reform.
On this episode, we're joined by Color Of Change's Clarise McCants and Brooklyn Defender Service's Scott Hechinger to highlight various tropes the media use to push back against prison reform and how to fight back against their playbook of fear and racism.