Detention fees unfairly burden poor people | COMMENTARY
Imagine the plight of Jason, a typical Maryland criminal defendant accused of selling drugs. Six months ago, Jason considered himself fortunate when his bail review judge ordered him confined on home detention before trial. That sure sounded better than being locked-up indefinitely in a cage and being exposed to the deadly COVID-19 virus. But after finding it difficult to raise the $400 to $600 monthly fee for his GPS monitoring bracelet, Jason’s not so sure. Now unemployed, he can no longer pay the expensive fee. Yet Jason certainly does not want to trigger the alternative, a return to jail. Is there a way out of this dilemma?
If Jason lives in Baltimore County, luckily there is. Home-monitoring fees have been eliminated there for pretrial and sentenced individuals. This is welcome news, as home-monitoring fees unfairly burden poor people and deepen the inequality that plagues our criminal justice system. Eliminating such fees makes moral and financial sense, and we encourage every Maryland jurisdiction to follow Baltimore County’s suit. At the same time, we caution against judicial overuse of home monitoring. Our pretrial system should not replace its current brand of oppressive and unnecessary incarceration with another “kinder, gentler” form.