Trapped: Cash Bail in America Image

Trapped: Cash Bail in America

By Noah Schwartz | May 25, 2021

Trapped: Cash Bail in America took me on a tour of America, but instead of the usual sights, I saw the victims of a system of oppression and exploitation aimed solely at the working class. Through various citizens from across the country, director Garrett Hubbard and writer Chris L. Jenkins show that the exploitative and unhelpful nature of the cash bail system in America is not solely a racial or gendered problem, but an American problem. They detail how, by being “tough on crime,” we are, in fact feeding a beast, the prison industrial complex, that now devours more innocent lives than guilty ones.

The system says that we are innocent until proven guilty, yet it throws those innocent people in jail regardless of the severity of their alleged crime or danger to the public. I appreciated that the documentary also calls out the financial incentive that the ever-growing cash bail industry and local governments have to continue it. See, bail funnels people’s money into governments and private hands by giving them a choice of pre-trial jail time that could easily last months or years, or freedom, for a price.

Trapped: Cash Bail in America follows the stories of several people, from activists trying to reform or abolish the system to bail bond agents who are fighting to keep it in place, as well as many currently incarcerated people. However, it focuses heavily on the story of Brianna Noah, a young mother of two whose parents had to raise their grandkids while she was in pre-trial detention for months on end.

“…a comprehensive picture of the problems with the cash bail system…”

While I appreciate the focus on the criminalization of these people who have not yet had their day in court, one thing the film largely glossed over was what can and should replace the cash bail system. California Bill SB10 is shown as an example of progress towards a criminal justice system without cash bail. But only briefly and quickly mentioned is the fact that many activists, including the ACLU, are against the bill due to how it replaces it with a system that still lets the courts and police decide who stays in pre-trial detention and who does not.

While I agree it should not be at the sole discretion of cops or judges, a discussion about what crimes are dangerous is sorely absent. Similarly, I would have also appreciated more insight into the alleged crimes and the victims of those crimes (if any) to get a more nuanced picture. Everyone deserves proper justice, but not everyone will be found innocent.

Trapped: Cash Bail in America provides a comprehensive picture of the problems with the cash bail system in America, although it largely ignores the solutions to those problems. In doing so, it is a powerful educational tool but falls flat as a call to action.

Trapped: Cash Bail in America (2020)

Directed: Garrett Hubbard

Written: Chris L. Jenkins

Starring: Brianna Noah, William Evans, Ijah Bradshaw, etc.

Movie score: 7/10

Trapped: Cash Bail in America Image

"…a powerful educational tool..."

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