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The problem with the U.S. bail system - Camilo Ramirez

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Since 2000, the annual number of people convicted of crimes in the United States has stayed steady, but the average number of people in jail each year has shot up. How can that be? The answer lies in the bail system— which isn’t doing what it was intended to do. Camilo Ramirez details how the cash bail system disproportionally hurts people in low-income communities and communities of color.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Camilo Ramirez
  • Director Patrick Smith
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Animator Patrick Smith
  • Storyboard Artist Patrick Smith
  • Compositor Patrick Smith
  • Art Director Patrick Smith
  • Sound Designer Patrick Smith
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Script Editor Iseult Gillespie
  • Fact-Checker Joseph Isaac
  • See more
Additional Resources for you to Explore
America’s jails are largely filled with people who have not been convicted of crimes, particularly Black Americans. The use of cash bail to decide who stays in and who stays out before trial is one of the reasons why. Here’s the history of how this came to be.

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A fundamental protection in any society is the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. But what if that right was something you had to purchase? Here’s the history of how cash bail turned the presumption of innocence into a luxury.

Cash bail is one of the reasons the U.S. is one of the most incarcerated nations on earth. In the past 20 years, pretrial detention, largely driven by the incarceration of those who cannot afford cash bail, has been a key driver of jail growth and racial disparities in the legal system. In this video, actor and activist Danny Glover explains how cash bail fuels mass incarceration.

On any given day, over 60% of people held in U.S. jails have not been convicted of a crime. The human cost of these policies is devastating. In this TED Talk, Robin Steinberg, founder of The Bail Project, explains the ripple effect that being held in jail on cash bail can have on individuals, their due process rights, families, and entire communities.

Cash bail creates a two-tier system of justice, in which people in Black and low-income communities see their due process systematically violated. As this story illustrates, holding on to your innocence is not easy when the only way out of jail is to plead guilty.

As The Bail Project’s work demonstrates, it doesn’t have to be this way. Cash bail is not only unjust to those who can’t afford it, but it’s also unnecessary as the vast majority of people simply return to court without a financial incentive when provided with adequate support.

So what could replace cash bail if we were to end it? As The Bail Project notes, we need to be vigilant about creating alternatives that do not recreate the harms and disparities of the current system. The Bail Project offers five principles to help reimagine pretrial justice after cash bail.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Camilo Ramirez
  • Director Patrick Smith
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Animator Patrick Smith
  • Storyboard Artist Patrick Smith
  • Compositor Patrick Smith
  • Art Director Patrick Smith
  • Sound Designer Patrick Smith
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Script Editor Iseult Gillespie
  • Fact-Checker Joseph Isaac
  • See more