In the midst of a contentious divorce, Lavette Mayes got into a heated argument with her soon-to-be ex-mother-in-law. A couple of weeks later, Chicago Police arrested her for aggravated battery.
Up until that point, her only interaction with the legal system had been reporting for jury duty. Her new business operating a school van service was thriving. She was renting a nice house, a place she and her two children could call home. Then, in 2015, a judge slapped her with a $250,000 bail — an amount that Mayes could not afford.
After she had spent 14 months in the Cook County Jail, the Chicago Community Bond Fund, a volunteer organization, helped Mayes make bail after a judge reduced the amount. By that point, though, her business had collapsed, she’d lost her home, and her kids were traumatized. “I lost everything,” Mayes, 46, said.
Increasingly, state policymakers are looking at defendants like Mayes and reexamining the purpose of bail. Six in 10 adults in U.S. jails have not been convicted of a crime. They are locked up awaiting trial, mostly because they’re too poor to post bail. They are legally presumed innocent, but many spend months and even years awaiting trial. Often, they feel pressure to take a plea deal rather than spend more time in jail.