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Get Out of Jail Free

Each year 35,000 New Yorkers end up in jail because they cannot afford bail. Campaigners want to end cash bail to preserve the idea that people are innocent until proven guilty.

On any given day there are around half a million people detained in American jails without being convicted of a crime. One big reason for this is America's unique system of cash bail. When bail is set, those who can afford it go free to await their trial. Those who cannot - often the poor, minorities, the mentally ill - either take their chances with commercial bail-bondsmen, or go to jail.

Critics say it is a broken system that lets potentially dangerous people go because they have the cash, and detains other who are harmless just because they are poor.

James Fletcher visits New York to hear the stories of those caught up in the machinery of American justice. Bail reform is gaining rare bipartisan support across the US with neighbouring New Jersey eliminating cash bail for most crimes at the beginning of the year; will New York follow suit?

(Photo: Joel Cruz was attacked by another inmate at New York's Rikers Island jail. He was incarcerated there because he couldn't afford bail)

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27 minutes

Last on

Sun 25 Jun 2017 04:32GMT

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