BPDA's Position on the Death Penalty

The Black Public Defender Association (BPDA) supports the abolition of the death penalty.

Capital punishment disproportionately targets Black people. A remnant of slavery and lynching, capital punishment only serves to perpetuate violence on our society’s most vulnerable people, while doing nothing to actually prevent harm.

  • The death penalty is rooted in racial terror lynchings that killed thousands of Black Americans.
  • Race is often a determining factor in death sentences and executions, undermining any notion of fairness in the system.
  • Capital cases are often heard by all-white, or nearly all-white, juries, which are more likely to sentence Black people to death.
  • Capital cases are also prosecuted almost exclusively by white prosecutors – and the prospect of mercy once convicted is rare.
  • America’s long history of associating guilt and criminality with Blackness puts Black people at increased risk of being wrongfully sentenced to death.

BPDA Policy Recommendations:


  • Commute death sentences. Governors and the president must do more than place moratoriums on executions. They should also use their clemency power to commute the sentences of every person on death row. While it takes legislative action to actually abolish the death penalty, executive branch leaders must not be absolved of their responsibility to stop the government’s barbaric practice of killing people.
  • Abolish the death penalty. Anything short of abolition will leave people—mostly Black and Latinx people—vulnerable to execution.
  • Do not replace the death penalty with life without parole. Life without parole is often offered as a reform alternative to the death penalty. But in reality, life without parole is a death sentence by another name. Advocates and policymakers should not endorse extreme punishments such as life without parole in their efforts to abolish death sentences.

BPDA's Position on Cash Bail

The Black Public Defender Association (BPDA) supports reforms that eliminate the use of cash bail. 

Cash bail is a wealth-based pretrial system that unjustly incarcerates people and does nothing to promote community safety. It is used not only to jail people who are legally innocent, but it also criminalizes poverty and perpetuates racial inequities in the criminal legal system. In addition, cash bail coerces people to plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit and promotes wrongful convictions.

  • Cash bail is an arbitrary system that criminalizes poverty and discriminates against low-income people.
  • Cash bail perpetuates the structural racism inherent in our society and criminal legal system.
  • Cash bail does not ensure people return to court or improve public safety.

BPDA Policy Recommendations:

  • Eliminate cash bail.
  • Eliminate arrests for low-level offenses, stop unnecessary prosecutions, and implement deflection programs to divert people away from the criminal legal system and instead connect them to community support services to address unmet needs, such as housing.
  • Implement measures to ensure court appearances.
  • Utilize non-punitive conditions for pretrial release.
  • Remove for-profit interests such as bail bondsman from the criminal legal system. Remove all costs associated with pretrial services, and make non-monetary conditions of release free for the accused. 
  • Do not replace mass incarceration with mass community surveillance and e-carceration (the use of technology to deprive people of their freedom) of Black and brown communities.
  • Eliminate the use of risk assessment tools in making pretrial detention decisions.