1964 May 27

AG Kennedy Opens National Conference on Bail: Reform Soon Follows


Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy gave the keynote address at the National Conference on Bail and Criminal Justice on this day. Chief Justice Earl Warren also spoke. The conference launched a national bail reform movement that led to the 1966 federal Bail Reform Act and similar laws in every state (June 22, 1966). (President Lyndon Johnson used the occasion of signing the law to argue that there is no conflict between the rights of criminal suspects and constitutional rights.) The new laws created a presumption of pretrial release through release on recognizance or a 10% bail plan. The reform ended the abuses of the old money bail system, in which poor people sat in jail before trial simply because they could not afford bail.

The bail reform movement of the 1960s succeeded in substantially reducing jail populations, which meant that many people who had not yet been convicted of a crime no longer had to wait in jail until trial. Unfortunately, by the 2000s more defendants were being held in jail before trial and jail populations had risen significantly .

The gains of the bail reform movement in the 1960s were undone, however, by the movement for preventive detention in the 1970s, which allowed judges to detain defendants without bail who they deemed “dangerous” (January 31, 1969). Congress passed a federal preventive detention law that the Supreme Court held to be constitutional, in United States v. Salerno, on May 26, 1987.

Learn more about Why Bail Matters: https://aclu-wa.org/blog/why-bail-matters

Learn more about 1960s bail reform, in impact, and the aftermath: Samuel Walker, Sense and Nonsense About Crime, Drugs, and Community, 8th ed. (2014)

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