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Hawaii's bail system is broken: Here's why

Hawaii has a criminal justice system that is similar to the other states. However, it's been discussed for some time that the bail system is not working for many.

Inequality in a criminal justice system is a problem that must be addressed. In this case, it's inequality in how much people have to pay for bail. For example, one man was told he'd have to pay $2,000 if he wanted to get out of jail while waiting for trial. Unfortunately, it wasn't affordable for him, and he was trapped behind bars. Of course, in cases of wealthier defendants, they could be free in a matter of hours.

Unfortunately, this happens every day. Now, though, new legislation could change the way people are released if they are arrested for nonviolent crimes. The bail-reform legislation would require the defendant's financial situation to be considered before setting bail. That could eliminate the need for payments for low-risk offenders or make bail low enough that it's affordable.

The bills are in response to findings by a task force that the current bail bond amounts are excessive. Recognizing that, it's important for legislators to approve changes that could make bail bonds more affordable for everyone based on their finances and the situation they were allegedly involved in.

How much is bail usually set for?

Bail is usually set at $11,000 for a class C felony. While that's the typical amount, it can be set much higher. Looking at the people being held in Hawaii's jail system who had not yet been convicted, 88 percent were asked to post bail as a requirement to be released. Of them, only 44 percent could afford to do so.

It's also important to realize that bail is often used as a negotiating tool by prosecutors and the police. Prosecutors use it as a tool to get defendants to take a plea deal. The defendants eventually want out of jail so badly that they'll accept the terms of a plea deal, which is unfair and unethical.

People in Hawaii are held an average of 18 days before trial for petty misdemeanors. People with mental health problems are held, on average, 92 days before trial.

The system is broken, and people do need to have help on their side. A good attorney can help you fight to get out of jail and to avoid having harsher penalties due to your financial situation.

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  • HSBA Hawaii State Bar Association
  • Judiciary State Of Hawaii
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  • United States District Court, Northern District of California
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