In the seventh-season premiere of “The Good Wife” this past Sunday night, viewers found the main character, attorney Alicia Florick, serving as a bail bond lawyer. It’s in this role that Florick learns firsthand that, in a fictionalized Chicago, mostly black defendants are caged by the dozens in court cells daily, waiting for a seconds-long hearing before a judge who steadily sets bails higher than they can afford. Those who can’t pay get carted off back to jail until their trials start, which could be months or years.
The episode shined light on some hard truths about the real-life criminal justice system, namely overcrowded jails and over-taxed defendants. In New York City, 40 percent of the jailed population are there because they couldn’t afford bail—most of them for nonviolent drug crimes. The city spends $42 million on average annually incarcerating non-felony defendants. (This is what Queens rapper Nas was talking about when he called out judges in his song “Memory Lane” for handing out “un-correct bails for direct sales.”)