Date of Award

Spring 6-13-2022

Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of arts (BA)


Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Emily Thuma


Despite the belief that our justice system holds people “innocent until proven guilty,” for those who are unable to pay for their freedom from pretrial detention, they find the opposite to be true. The cash bail system in this country allows people to pay a court-determined fee to be released from jail after arrest while they wait for their trial. But as this paper demonstrates, the cash bail system as it currently stands in Washington State criminalizes poverty and simultaneously exacerbates racial inequities. Under this system, accused individuals who cannot afford bail, as well as their families, face extreme social and economic consequences. In this paper, I will explore the impacts of cash bail and the changes we must make to move forward as a community. I will begin with an analysis of the origins of the cash bail and pretrial detention system, transitioning to exploring the history of U.S. bail reform over the last 70 years. I will then analyze the global concerns and consequences of increased reliance on pretrial detention, with particular emphasis on the use of secured financial conditions and the persisting harms of this system. Finally, I will focus on recent Washington State attempts to better understand the landscape of our pretrial detention system, using Pierce County as a case study. This paper demonstrates the inequities of the bail and pretrial detention system through its departure from cash bail’s original intent: to ensure defendants returned for court dates. Ultimately, this paper calls for three pretrial reform recommendations: codifying “the presumption of release,” investing in services to reduce barriers to defendants returning to court without incarceration, and abandoning the decentralized Pretrial Services Program model.