Why We Should Eliminate Cash Bail

Daylin Leach
7 min readFeb 17, 2022

Over the course of my 18 years in the Pennsylvania legislature, I introduced a lot of legislation. That was sort of my thing. When I awoke from a deep sleep with a start, usually during floor debate, I would invariably have a new, brilliant(ish)idea. Some were completely random, such as “If hats could talk, what would they say?” or “What if we renamed cucumbers?”.

But if these epiphanies (or “evidence of head trauma”, as some called them) were at all related to public policy, they would soon be translated into a bill, complete with a grandiose sounding name, like the “Make Competitive Fishermen who Exaggerate the Size of Their Catch Wish They Were Never Even Freakin’ Born” act of 2018.

One area of policy I really focused on was criminal-justice reform, which I had a deep interest in as a former criminal attorney and a likely future criminal defendant. I’ve always thought our justice system was bloated, ineffective, irrational and sometimes cruel. Too many things are illegal and our approach has become increasingly punitive, focusing on longer and more severe periods of incarceration.

In Pennsylvania, between 1940 and 1980 we had a stable rate of state incarceration of between 5,000 and 7,000 inmates. But starting in the early 80’s we decided to get “tough on crime”. Well, not all crime. We were actually the opposite of tough on a wide variety of crimes committed by corporations such as pollution, labor theft and consumer fraud. I’m referring to crimes that the non-politically connected tend to commit, such as drug or property crimes as well as some crimes of violence.

As a result of these tough-on-crime policies, our incarceration rate shot up from 5–7,000 at a time to close to 60,000. We build dozens of prisons at a cost of billions of dollars. What all that money bought us was a lot of suffering and ruined lives. What it did not buy us was a crime rate any lower than other states that took a radically cheaper and more humane approach.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. Tens of thousands of additional people at a time were locked up in Pennsylvania’s jails for failure to make cash bail. That is why I introduced legislation to eliminate cash bail in 2010, well before it was cool. And I hadn’t done anything before it was cool since I started wearing my pants below my…

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Daylin Leach

Long-time state House and Senate member, author of PA’s Medical Marijuana law, also creator of “shit-gibbon!” Comedian, professor, father of 2 awesome children!