ACLU Report: Bail Practices Prioritize Wealth of Accused Over Community Risk

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The ACLU of Hawai‘i released a study showing that almost half of the people in Hawai‘i jails are pre-trial detainees who have not been convicted of the crimes for which they’ve been accused.

The preliminary report, called “As Much Justice As You Can Afford – Hawaiiʻs Accused Face an Unequal Bail System,” also reveals that the average bail amount in Honolulu for the lowest level felony is over $20,000. The report states that the primary reason so many people wait in jail for months is because they cannot afford to get out while waiting for trial.

The report is part of an ongoing, statewide investigation and analysis of how bail practices affect local families and communities.


“Bail is not supposed to be punishment,” said Legal Director Mateo Caballero. “Bail is supposed to minimize the risk of flight and danger to society while preserving the constitutional rights of the accused. Instead, our early findings show that the way bail is used in Hawai‘i does not serve any of these purposes. Instead, bail practices regularly cause people to waive their rights just to get out of jail. That is unjust and violates the constitution.”

The preliminary report is based on an analysis of six months of public data and interviews with court officials. It captures a snapshot of how bail is used in Hawai‘iʻs criminal justice system, typical outcomes for the accused, and how current practices affect overcrowding of local jails like the O‘ahu Community Corrections Center. An update with a full year of data is planned for late 2018.

“In practice, the way bail works in Hawai‘i means that if you’re wealthy you get out of jail while you wait for trial, and if you aren’t – you don’t,” added Executive Director Joshua Wisch. “Almost half of the people in Hawai‘i jails have not been convicted of the crime for which they’ve been accused – they’re only in jail because they can’t afford bail. We hope this report will start a discussion about how we can improve this system.”


The report shows that in 2017, arrestees who were released on their own recognizance stayed in jail on average 85 days and an average of 97 days on supervised release. Officials say to underscore the problem: arrestees in Hawai‘i who are ultimately released without having to pay money bail are still held in jail—at tremendous cost to the stat —for almost three months; while the average time in similar jurisdictions on the mainland is two weeks.

The report follows ACLU community events in Hilo and Honolulu to discuss criminal justice reform concerns.


Among the report’s findings, which have been provided to legislators, the judiciary, and the administration:

  • Money is required to bail out about 93% of the time on O‘ahu, 88% statewide.
  • Over 50% of those accused do not post bail, likely because they cannot afford it.
  • Of the almost 2,200 people held in Hawai‘i’s jails on any given day, about half are pre-trial detainees and they are held at a cost of $146/day per person.
  • Even if eventually allowed to go free without money bail while awaiting trial, the accused in Hawai‘i wait in jail an average of over 90 days before that hearing even happens, when most large counties in the country are able to release arrestees in 15 days or less.
  • Almost 70% of accused who changed their “not guilty” plea to a “guilty” plea did so while in pretrial custody, raising serious concerns for due process, bias, and fairness.

The report can be found here.

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