Charlotte Talks: Rethinking Jails And The Factors Keeping People Behind Bars

Dec 12, 2017

Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017

Mecklenburg County and others have been reassessing how the lack of means to post bail and pay court fines keep defendants behind bars.
Credit Meesh/Flickr

Mecklenburg County and others across the country are trying to reduce jail populations by addressing the financial restraints that keep people behind bars. Mike Collins looks at how the justice system is trying to create change from within.

A national rethinking of the use of jails is taking place, and Mecklenburg County is involved in that reassessment.

Nearly 20 percent of Mecklenburg County’s jail population is locked up because of the financial penalties tied to their offenses, part of what one expert calls “a spiral of incarceration” that drags down defendants who lack the means to pay.

The lack of those means are also a major hindrance in those defendants’ entry into the jail system as they’re unable to post bail. Nationally, 450,000 people are believed to be behind bars because they’re unable to afford their bail, and black and Latino defendants are disproportionately hit by that inability.

Mecklenburg County, for several years, has tried to adjust the approach to bail, and recently received a $2 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation to continue working on keeping fewer low-risk, non-violent offenders in jail.

We talk with those involved in trying to bring about reform in the courtroom and the jail.


The Hon. Elizabeth Trosch, Mecklenburg County district court judge

Robyn Withrow, asssistant Mecklenburg County district attorney

Robert Dawkins, founder, SAFE Coalition NC

Soledad McGrath, criminal justice program officer, MacArthur Foundation