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Harvey Weinstein’s $1 million get-out-of-jail card shows the injustice of bail

Jefferson Siegel /Pool via Reuters
Weinstein during his arraignment.
By Hanna Kozlowska
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was charged today (May 25) with rape and several counts of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct. Because Weinstein could shell out $1 million for bail, he was allowed to walk free before his trial. It’s a privilege not afforded to tens of thousands of people who are unable to pay even a few hundred dollars to escape jail time while they wait to be tried for crimes far less severe.

Weinstein, who denies the charges against him, must wear an ankle monitor and is forbidden from traveling beyond New York and Connecticut until his next court date.

Weinstein is taking advantage of a system that strongly favors the rich, and one that is unique on the global stage. In the US, those who can’t afford to pay bail often rely on the commercial bail bond system, in which private companies profit from charging poor defendants non-refundable fees for loaning them bail funds.

In eight New York counties alone (out of 62), 21,000 people over five years were held in jail for more than a week because they couldn’t pay a $500 bail, an analysis by the New York Civil Liberties Union showed. Sixty percent of the defendants in the study were held on minor offenses, like shoplifting. Weinstein, by contrast, was charged with felony rape. (His criminal case only pertains to two women, but he has been accused by a whopping 85).

The cash bail system perpetuates a variety of social problems, including poverty and racial inequality. Each day in jail can mean losing a job, or custody of a child. Bail issues also disproportionately affect minorities and women.

In New York, judges are supposed to take a person’s ability to pay into consideration when setting bail, but this provision is rarely enforced, Scott McNamara, Oneida County’s district attorney, told NPR. Efforts are underway to reform or even abolish the cash bail system in New York and around the country, but the movement is growing slowly.

In the courtroom in New York, Manhattan assistant attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said Weinstein “used his position, money and power to lure young women into situations where he was able to violate them sexually.”

Now Weinstein, who was photographed smiling as he left the police station where he turned himself in, has also used his position, money, and power to prolong his freedom.

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