Right now, about 480,000 people are locked in American jails nationwide awaiting trial. Their median wait time will be 68 days, but for some, it will be much, much longer. At the notorious Riker's Island prison in New York, for example, some 1,500 people have been imprisoned for a year or longer without trial. Another 400 have been there at least two years, and six prisoners have been waiting more than half a decade for their day in court.
While some of these prisoners may indeed be guilty of violent crimes, three out of four are low-level offenders, accused of nonviolent infractions like drug possession or traffic violations. In other words, most of them aren't a danger to society; they just can't make bail.
Keeping half a million people jailed pre-trial costs about $17 billion annually. It can also assign life-altering consequences to relatively small mistakes, as 68 days in jail is more than enough time to default on rent or wear an employer's patience thin. Loss of home or job, in turn, compounds taxpayers' costs, making it far more likely that defendants, once released, will require public assistance.