Rethinking bail

Robin Steinberg speaks at TED2018 - The Age of Amazement, April 10 - 14, 2018, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED
Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

TED Radio Hour host Manoush Zomorodi’s conversation with The Bail Project‘s Robin Steinberg is incredibly insightful and inspiring. Steinberg shares her work supporting those who can’t afford to pay cash bail, which ultimately leads to a downward spiral of injustice.

The discussion is from TEDWomen 2019 conference held in December.

From Steinberg:

“The Bail Project is designed both, provide an immediate lifeline for folks that are stuck in jail cells simply because of poverty, because they can’t pay their bail, and that’s a response to the immediate direct emergency and human rights crisis that we have in this country around pretrial incarceration. But the second thing we’re trying to do is we’re testing a model that we call community release with voluntary supports. And what we’re trying to prove is, A: you don’t need cash bail, people will come back to court without cash bail. That myth has already been debunked and we know that. But we’re also trying to model you can actually release people back to their communities with effective court notifications. Make sure they’re connected to services they might need. And people will come back to court while their cases are open, and until those cases close. It is in an effort to move policy forward, to ensure the systemic change happens, but here’s our fear: it’s a race against time. Because as this conversation picks up speed, and as bail reform begins to take hold, some systems will move to new systems that we fear will recreate some of the same harms, right, that the initial bail system [created]. Those are racial disparities, economic inequality, and we can actually recreate that if we don’t get this right. And so we’re in a race against time to prove that you can do a community-based model that doesn’t require electronic monitoring or risk algorithms or jail cells or cash bail, but that you can simply release people to communities with supports. And that will work.”

“If we don’t face head-on how we’ve used our criminal legal system, and who we have targeted, and how we’ve defined crime, and how we punish people, we’re never going to move forward. So we are going to have to reckon with the harm that we’ve caused. And in so doing, we’re going to have to shift our lens. And that’s a real challenge for us, right? We’re going to have to shift our lens from a system that’s about punishment and cruelty and isolation and cages to a lens of, “What do you need, how can we support, where have we failed, how can we make that better, how can we restore and how can we heal?” And if we aren’t willing to do that, criminal justice reform is going to be stalled, or what comes next is going to be really problematic. It is a fundamental shift in the way that we see our criminal justice system. And make no mistake about it, the context of our criminal legal system is we have turned our back on social problems, right? So we have turned our backs on homelessness and dire poverty and structural racism and mental health challenges and addiction and even immigration status. And instead, we have used our jails and our criminal legal system, right, to answer those problems. And that has to change.”


About Luke Fretwell

Luke Fretwell is the founder of GovFresh, co-founder/CEO of ProudCity and co-host of the podcast, The Government We Need. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn or email at


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