Principle #1: End Wealth-Based Disparities
i. End the Use of Money Bail
The continued use of unjust money bail policies contributes to the overall incarceration of poor people and disproportionately harms people of color by keeping them incarcerated simply because they cannot afford to pay bail. Locally elected prosecutors should adopt the following policies or engage in the following actions to reduce the use of cash bail.
Issue public statements in support of statewide legislation, local ordinances, and/or litigation aimed at ending unjust money bail policies.
Until money bail is eliminated, advocate for individualized, adversarial bail hearings, at which the defendant is represented by counsel.
Presume and affirmatively recommend release for all defendants unless there is a clearly articulated and specific substantial risk of harm to the community or high likelihood of flight.
Publicly support the expansion of cash-free pretrial bonds.
ii. Make Diversion Programs Accessible to All
Pretrial diversion creates opportunities for people charged with an offense to get the support and education necessary for rehabilitation, and allows successful individuals to avoid the collateral consequences of a conviction, which can be detrimental to future employment, housing, and education. Pretrial diversion should be available to anyone eligible to participate in the program, irrespective of an individual’s ability to pay a fine or fee.
Eliminate all fees, court costs, and fines associated with pretrial diversion programs. If fees cannot be eliminated for all defendants, create a robust fee waiver program.
Do not make admission to diversion programs contingent on ability to pay restitution.
Make the application to diversion programs free for all defendants.
Participation in diversion programs should be not be conditioned on initially entering a guilty plea.
iii. Adopt Policies to Avoid the Criminalization of Poverty
and End Debtor’s Prison
Local criminal justice systems disproportionately harm people living in poverty. Whether through the imposition of fines and fees as a condition to resolving cases, or through laws that effectively criminalize homelessness, local actors have imposed a poverty penalty on many people within our communities. Locally-elected prosecutors should adopt the following policies to reduce the number of people who remain in jails or have criminal convictions simply because they are poor.
Publicly support legislation to outlaw drivers’ license suspensions for non-payment of court costs, fines, or fees.
Oppose incarceration based upon the failure to pay fines, fees, court costs, or restitution unless there is uncontroverted proof the individual is able but willfully refusing to pay.
Refuse to prosecute sit-sleep-lie laws, public urination violations, and other quality-of-life conduct that is a byproduct of an individual’s homelessness or poverty.
4. End Civil Asset Forfeiture
In many states, law enforcement can seize money, personal belongings, and property from people without even charging them with a crime or obtaining a conviction. Often, the money seized is then used to pad law enforcement budgets. There is no place for this practice, which has received criticism from across the ideological spectrum. Prosecutors must resolve to put an end to asset forfeiture in their counties.
Support statewide legislation to end the use of civil asset forfeiture, and work with local officials to end the practice in your county.
Prior to the elimination of asset forfeiture, commit to using the practice only in criminal cases after a conviction has been obtained, where the amount in question exceeds $40,000, and after members of the community have had an opportunity to contest, with the aid of a lawyer, a potential seizure.