Fairfax County prosecutor ends cash-bail system

Fairfax County, Virginia, Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said that his office will stop seeking cash bail, explaining he believes it creates a two-tiered system of justice.

“Cash-bail is the amount of money a court forces someone who’s already deemed to not be dangerous to pay before they can leave jail and go home as they await trial,” Descano said Monday in an announcement.

Descano said it creates two systems of justice, one for the rich and one for everybody else, and he said that Black and brown Virginians “bear the brunt of that injustice.”

Since taking office in January 2020, he said he has instructed his prosecutors not to seek cash bail. But sometimes, Descano said a judge will impose one.

Instead, the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office takes a comprehensive look at every case and pairs individuals with services and interventions that allow them to “go home, keep the community safe, and ensure they come back for their trial date.”

In a memo detailing procedures, cash bail is described as discriminatory and has a detrimental impact on housing stability. It also states even a small bail amount, “has the potential to wreak havoc. Those awaiting trial often lose their jobs, and by extension their means of providing housing to themselves and to their children.”

“No amount of money is going to make someone who’s a danger to the community less dangerous. And people who are poor shouldn’t be punished simply because they are poor,” Descano said.

Descano is also asking the General Assembly to abolish the cash-bail system.

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