Many people use the words “jail” and “prison” interchangeably. The distinction between this two typed of deprivation of liberty by the government is, however quite simple. Jail is the place were people are held before and during their trial. Prison is the place were we put convicted criminals.
When the police arrests someone, they will usually bring the arrested person first to the police station for [further] questioning. This stage usually takes several hours to a few days, and when it considered necessary to keep this person in custody for a longer period of time, the arrested will be transferred to jail.
The main purpose of keeping suspects in jail is to ensure they will show up in court, as it is difficult to convict people in absentia in many countries. Locking people up is, however, a drastic measure, in particular if one is suspected of a relatively minor crime.
There is a tension between jail and the presumption of innocence. This principle states that people should be held innocent unless proven otherwise. For liberal democracies this principle is of great importance as it protects citizens from arbitrary imprisonment. Before the authorities should be allowed to put you in prison, or to give you whatever punishment, they government should prove your guilt.
Because of this tension between protecting the rights of innocents on one hand and the desire to prevent suspects from fleeing the country, the concept of bail has been introduced. Bail is a sum of money one has to pay to leave jail, and this money is returned once one shows up in court (in your own trial). The height of this sum is set by the judge at a preliminary hearing.
In most cases suspects are allowed to leave jail if they pay bail, as most criminal court cases only involve minor crimes. There are, however, people who cannot pay bail, regardless of how low the bail is set. This is frustrating for poor suspects who are actually innocent, they are punished twice just for being poor as they are robbed of their liberty without due cause.
Bail is invented in more primitive ages, when technology was far less developed than today. Nowadays, we can prevent suspects from fleeing the country by electronic monitoring or in more extreme case with electronic house arrest. Hence in our opinion bail is outdated and should be abolished. Instead we are in favour of the following procedure:
At a pre-trial hearing the judge(s) should the decide whether a suspect should remain in jail (there are legitimate reasons to keep suspects in jail) or whether (s)he could await the trial in liberty. In the latter case it should be decided whether an additional measurements such electronic monitoring will be imposed. But in any way, if it is not necessary to remain in jail a suspect will be released regardless of his or her financial position.