There are only two countries on the planet that currently jail people for being too poor to pay the government for getting arrested: The United States and the Philippines. That’s right. Two. As Slate’s Leon Neyfakh explained last year, there is currently a crusade underway in this country to end the practice of caging poor people who have been arrested for misdemeanors and traffic violationsunless they can come up with sums ranging from $300 to $500. One prominent civil rights attorney in Washington, D.C., Alec Karakatsanis, has been filing suits across the United States arguing that this practice is unconstitutional.
As these cases work their way through the system, though, even more is being done. Jason Flom is the CEO of Lava Records, credited with discovering Katy Perry, Lorde, and Kid Rock, among others. He is also a founding board member of the Innocence Project, which uses DNA testing to exonerate those who have been wrongly convicted. Among his newest justice-reform projects, one stands out as eminently achievable: Flom wants to get rid of cash bail. Boom.
In any given year, city and county jails across this country lock up between 11 and 13 million people just because they aren’t rich enough to write a check for a few hundred dollars. Flom is convinced that every city in the United States should follow the lead of Washington D.C., which has done away with cash bail. I spoke with Flom to find out what this new crusade is all about, why one of the country’s leading record moguls is obsessing over it, and why America has one criminal justice system for the rich and another for the poor.