Unaffordable bail sums in the spotlight

Kyla Herrmannsen
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Minister of Correctional Services, Sibusiso Ndebele, confessed in his 2013-2014 budget vote speech that bails sums are set too high in South Africa. This, he noted, leads to prison overcrowding.

He said, “On average, 15% to 20% of the 45 043 awaiting-trial detainees are in custody because they cannot afford bail. This has resulted in the poorest of the poor being removed from their families, with associated socioeconomic implications.”

Legal Aid South Africa have declared that roughly 10 000 awaiting trial prisoners in South Africa qualify for bail but remain in detention due to not being able to financially afford paying the bail sum – in about half of these 10 000 cases the bail sum was set at less than R1000.

But, South Africa is not the only country in which bail sums are often set above the financial means of the accused, resulting in high volumes of awaiting trial or pre-trial detainees. In Malawi, much like South Africa, many who legally qualify for bail remain in prison due to an inability to pay the sum. This has prompted some to argue that Malawi has two justice systems – on for the poor and one for the rich.

This is not exclusively a ‘developing world problem’ though, with the United States of America’s prisons also fill to the brim, many behind bars unable to pay the bail sum that was set for them. There are roughly 12 million arrests made in the USA annually but under 5% of these are for violent crimes.

A project based in the Bronx, the Freedom Fund, has begun to address the issue of unaffordable bail sums through paying bail amounts of up to $2000 for those accused of misdemeanours whom they believe will not pose a threat to society and are trusted to attend their trials. The Freedom Fund’s aim is to extend the right to a fair trial to all – those with money and those without money.

Read more about unaffordable bail sums here:

Man held for four years as could not afford bail

Why millions of low-income Americans are jailed without being convicted of a crime

America’s bail system: one law for the rich, another for poor

‘The Price of Freedom’ – a 2010 report by Human Rights Watch

When release from jail is tied to being black and poor

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About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

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