Cash bail and how it’s become limited in the 36th District Court

Cash bail is a unique American tradition, but some states and courts are limiting its use or removing it altogether, according to participants and observers of the criminal justice system.

Bail Bond agency in Indianapolis courtesy of WikiCommons

Cash bail now has a longstanding tradition in America’s judicial system. But it’s been removed or reformed in several states and localities. The Washtenaw County has removed it entirely from their practices.

Now, Michigan’s 36th District Court decided to limit cash bail. The decision comes as an agreement after the American Civil Liberties (ACLU) of Michigan and another law firm filed a class action lawsuit against the 36th District Court for attempting to end cash bail, as they said it discriminates against the poorest defendants who are unable to pay bond.

At the time of the 2019 lawsuit, the ACLU claimed that over 60 percent of Wayne County pretrial detainees were there because they couldn’t pay bond. But why has cash bail been a part of America’s judicial system, and why did it become limited in Michigan’s 36th District Court?

Judge William McConico of the 36th District Court says too many people are “being punished for being poor.”

“When it comes to traffic and misdemeanors, 99 percent of those people will not have cash bail.” — Judge William McConico, 36th District Court.

Listen: How we got money bail and why Michigan’s 36th District Court agreed to limit its use.



Insha Rahman is the vice president of advocacy and partnerships at the Vera Institute, a national research nonprofit pushing to reform the criminal justice system. She says bail changed in America due to the advent of the bail bond industry, which often restricted freedom for pretrial detainees.

“What changed in this country was the advent, the start, of the bail bond industry,” says Rahman.

Judge William McConico is the chief judge for the 36th District Court. He says that cash bail will be restricted to much fewer cases in his district court.

“When it comes to traffic and misdemeanors, 99% of those cases will not have a cash bail,” says McConico. “When it comes to a felony case, the majority of those cases, cash bail will be eliminated also, unless there’s a finding by the magistrate or the judge that the defendant poses a risk to the community or is a great flight risk.”

Trusted, accurate, up-to-date.

WDET strives to make our journalism accessible to everyone. As a public media institution, we maintain our journalistic integrity through independent support from readers like you. If you value WDET as your source of news, music and conversation, please make a gift today.

Donate today »


  • Detroit Today
    Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.