The Fight to Prevent Presumptions Against Bail
When the Governor recently introduced a budget amendment that would reinstate presumptions against bail, we fought back. The Pretrial Justice Coalition (which LAJC is a founding member of) helped to repeal the presumptions in 2021 and knew defending the victory was key to continuing to make our pretrial system more just. We asked for the help of our supporters to demand our legislators defeat this amendment and, thanks to the hundreds who took action and our legislative champions in the Senate, we were successful.
An image of the vote tally in the Senate on the motion to pass the amendment by (yea votes are voting against the amendment)
WHAT ARE PRESUMPTIONS AGAINST BAIL?
Presumptions against bail are a legislator-created list of offenses and situations that result in an accused person being held in jail until their case is resolved, which can sometimes take years. The only way out is for the person to try and prove they should be set free, which can be an overwhelming challenge, especially for those with limited resources. This means depriving someone of their freedom for an alleged crime that they have not been convicted of. Having a list of offenses where the default is pretrial detention also means that individuals are lumped together based on alleged offenses and not considered based on their individual circumstances. Here is some additional information on presumptions against bail:
WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF BEING HELD PRETRIAL?
Pretrial detention, even for only a few days, can have serious consequences for people such as loss of employment, loss of housing, limited access to medical care, and more. Because these destabilizing effects on individuals then ripple out to their families and communities, automatic pretrial detention can ultimately threaten collective public safety rather than enhancing it. Racism in policing and other aspects of the criminal legal system also make presumptions against bail have a disproportionately large impact on Black and Latine communities. Presumptions also disproportionately impact those who are unable to hire their own attorney.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
After a long fight, the General Assembly ended presumptions against bail in Virginia during the 2021 legislative session. The Pretrial Justice Coalition, which we helped found in 2018, had been advocating for this reform for years, and it was a massive win for Virginians impacted by the criminal legal system in the past, present, or future.
Then, a few weeks ago, an article spreading misinformation about the impacts of the repeal of the law appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The author almost solely relied on the voices of local law enforcement and the Commonwealth’s Attorneys and made a number of incorrect statements about the end of presumptions against bail in Virginia. We responded, both to the paper’s Editor in Chief directly and publicly in a Letter to the Editor that you can read here. Soon articles on the issue began to appear in other publications as well.
Not long after, we got word that Governor Youngkin planned to propose an amendment to the 2022-2024 state budget that would bring back presumptions against bail. The Pretrial Justice Coalition immediately mobilized, working directly with legislators to fight the amendment and creating a whirlwind social media campaign that led to hundreds of people contacting elected representatives. Thankfully, the amendment failed in the Senate. We want to thank all those who stood up for this important issue, including Senator Deeds who sponsored the original legislation that removed the presumptions in 2021.
While we were able to stop this attempt to roll back progress, we’re sure there are more to come. Our system is built on the idea of “innocent of a crime until proven guilty,” and presumptions against bail turn that on its head by locking someone in jail until they can prove they should be free. We know that pretrial detention has a detrimental effect on people’s lives and on the health and public safety of their communities. We will continue to fight presumptions against bail and for pretrial justice at every opportunity, and we appreciate the support you’ve shown us at each step of the way.