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Like many in Louisville, DeMontez found himself in an impossible situation: He had to attend court-mandated classes as part of his probationary sentences, but he didn’t have the money to pay for them or the transportation to get there.

As a result, warrants were issued for his arrest because he didn’t finish the classes. If he showed up to court, he likely would have been jailed and held on bail he couldn’t afford. There was also the chance police would come to arrest him at any time.

Going to jail would have done nothing but disrupt DeMontez’ life and make it even more difficult to achieve stability. When people are detained solely because they can’t afford bail, they stand to lose their homes, jobs, and even custody of their children.

The Bail Project was able to help DeMontez by posting his bail immediately after he turned himself in at the courthouse. He says he’s since stayed sober, kept his housing, and lined up a job to continue providing for his family.

Nobody should be in jail just because they can’t afford their freedom. We’ll continue serving folks like DeMontez who just want to get their life on track without getting further ensnared in the criminal legal system.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an important ruling last week that, among other things, gives hundreds of our clients in San Diego the chance to vacate their convictions for unauthorized entry into the United States. In this post, we’ll break down what it means for The Bail Project, our clients, and our partners in San Diego.

What happened? Thousands of people convicted of unauthorized entry into the United States may now have those convictions tossed. This is because the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with defense attorneys that U.S. prosecutors were charging migrants under the wrong part of 8 U.S.C. § 1325, which is the part of immigration law that makes it a misdemeanor to cross the border without legal authorization, and a felony to do it more than once.

Who is affected by the ruling? Immigrants who had been prosecuted in San Diego since July 2018 under 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a)(2), as part of the Trump administration’s expansion of “Operation Streamline,” a federal program meant to speed up mass criminal prosecutions of immigrants. Operation Streamline has been in effect in other border regions as far back as 2005, but it expanded last year and was at the heart of the government’s rationale for separating families. Many of the immigrants affected by the San Diego decision have likely already been deported because immigration cases are handled by ICE, separate from criminal entry cases prosecuted by U.S. Attorneys with the Department of Justice. But now, if some of those people convicted of illegal entry and deported from the U.S. try to re-enter in the future, they will at least be able to start off without an illegal entry conviction on their record.

Why does it matter whether a person’s conviction for illegal entry is overturned? For immigrants facing the possibility of deportation, having any criminal conviction on your record makes it more likely an immigration judge will decide to deport you. It also means that if you try to enter the country again after being deported, you’ll be charged with felony re-entry, which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison (a first time illegal entry charge carries a maximum sentence of just six months). And in a larger sense, the ruling puts a wrench into the machinery of migrant prosecutions and the federal government’s attempts to “streamline” convictions without providing each person with the presumption of innocence or benefits of due process.

Where does The Bail Project fit into all this? The winning appeal was first lodged by lawyers with the Federal Defenders of San Diego, our main partners in the city. The Defenders enlisted the help of The Bail Project in August 2018, after they began requesting bond for immigrants charged under Section 1325. For about two months, The Bail Project bonded out 700 people—virtually every immigrant being prosecuted for illegal entry in San Diego. After getting bonded out, immigrants were transferred to ICE custody, where their immigration proceedings would begin. Soon after our arrival, however, the federal court responded to the fact that we were bonding out every person charged with illegal entry by changing the procedure so that immigrants on bond would be released to the public instead of ICE custody. This made the bonds higher and conditions of release stricter, limiting the number of people The Bail Project could bond out of jail for illegal entry cases.

Why does The Bail Project devote resources to disrupting Operation Streamline and the criminalization of border-crossing? In the words of Patrick Sullivan, our Site Manager in San Diego: “These people whose convictions were vacated never had the opportunity to have the presumption of innocence. They were jammed through a process that is designed to get people to plead guilty as fast as possible.” The Bail Project works to restore the presumption of innocence for all people who have merely been charged with a crime. Operation Streamline is designed to coerce guilty pleas with ruthless efficiency, and it is rooted in an explicitly white supremacist vision of America. We will keep fighting until it is dismantled!

In the wee hours of June 28, 1969, police raided The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar located in New York City’s Greenwich Village. It was not the first, or the last, police raid targeting gay and trans people in the city, but what happened next lit the spark for the modern queer liberation movement.

For two days people fought back. Among them, on the front lines, were two trans activists, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, who would help turn this moment into a movement.

Throughout their lives, Rivera and Johnson were targeted and arrested many times. Rivera recalls, “I don’t know how many times my grandmother had to come and bail me out of jail.  She was there. She always came, bailed me out.”

This criminalization continues to this day. As many queer and trans organizers remind us, Stonewall is now:

  • High rates of poverty leave transgender people, particularly Black trans people, disproportionately targeted by unaffordable cash bail. Trans people of all races are twice as likely as cis people to live in poverty, and Black trans people are almost three times at risk.
  • Employment discrimination often pushes trans people out of the traditional workforce and into other fields, such as sex work, which is highly criminalized. Without economic stability, trans people also experience housing insecurity – 1 in 5 trans people have experienced homelessness and 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ+ – putting queer and trans people at high risk of criminalization.
  • Once incarcerated, queer and trans people face a greater risk of violence and are disproportionately subject to solitary confinement. The recent high-profile death of Layleen Polanco, a 27-year-old Afro-Latina trans woman who died at Rikers Island while being held in solitary confinement for over two weeks on a $500 bail, has brought renewed attention to this crisis.
  • 85% of queer and trans incarcerated people have been in solitary confinement at some point, according to a 2014 survey from Black and Pink. Queer and trans people are also six times more likely to be sexually assaulted while incarcerated than the general jail and prison population.
  • Trans and gay asylum seekers are at a higher risk of violence – even once they are in the U.S. In May 2018 Roxsana Hernandez, a transgender woman who fled violence and discrimination in Honduras, died in ICE custody due to inadequate health care. Her death underscores how much trans immigrants are exposed  to violence and denied equal care in detention centers.

 

What you can do:

 

50 years ago today, an unstoppable movement for the rights of LGBTQ+ people and communities began. The Stonewall Riots were about more than just a single police raid: they were about ensuring that queer communities could be free to live their lives without fear of criminalization and violence. That struggle continues to this day — and it implicates all of us.

In solidarity,

The Bail Project Team

Image above: Marsha P. Johnson (left) and Sylvia Rivera march in New York City in 1973.

Greetings from Louisville, Kentucky. Last month, we marked one year since the launch of our Bail Project site in the Derby City and what a journey it has been!

To date, we have paid bail for over 900 Louisvillians, reuniting families, restoring the presumption of innocence, and helping our city fight mass incarceration. We’re now gearing up for our second year. We’ll be kicking things off by marching with the Presbyterian Church (USA) this week to call for bail reform.

A few weeks ago, I caught up with our very first client, Mr. Thomas Gibbs. Mr. Gibbs is a retiree and grandfather who spent several days in jail without his medications because he could not afford an $800 bail.

Here’s Mr. Gibbs a year later, celebrating with me our power “to move mountains” when we come together as a community to demand justice and true freedom.

One year later, I continue to be inspired by clients like Mr. Gibbs and the overwhelming community support we have received. From our amazing partners at the Louisville Metro Public Defenders to the Louisville chapter of Showing Up For Racial Justice (LSURJ) and the Presbyterian Church (USA), there’s a strong community behind this movement in Kentucky. Together, we are paving the way for real, long-lasting change.

Freedom should truly be free. This idea is nothing new, but here, in Louisville, we are revolutionizing how we get there, together.

Thank you for your support,

Shameka Parrish-Wright
Louisville Site Manager

A key part of supporting people after their bail is posted is identifying the best way to keep them notified about their future court dates. Research (and our own experiences) shows that effective text reminders are usually enough, but what do you do when a person is homeless and doesn’t have a phone?

You get creative.

This past winter, Sabrina, a bail disruptor with our Spokane team, met Annabelle*, a young woman who had spent two weeks incarcerated pretrial because she couldn’t afford bail.

Annabelle shared with Sabrina that she had been homeless for the past three years and did not have a cellphone at the moment. What she had, though, was a small community of friends, including a local grocer near the spot where she would camp.

So Sabrina got to work. She contacted the grocer and he agreed to be a contact for Annabelle during her case and let her borrow a phone if needed. Sabrina also connected Annabelle with Consistent Care, one of our partner organizations in Spokane, which provided her with a phone, drug treatment, and transitional housing within two days of her release. Thanks to this support, Annabelle found a safe place to stay and is now in a position to work with her public defender and fight her case from a place of freedom.

Sabrina says that a strong network of partner organizations in Spokane has made our work possible in her city, where the majority of our clients face chronic homelessness and drug addiction.

In fact, every two weeks, a group called Hot Spotters – comprised of different organizations from public defenders, to mental health providers, to EMTs – meet to figure out how to best pool their resources.

“It’s really beautiful to see that many agencies come together to help people with wraparound services,” Sabrina said.

We couldn’t agree more. Partnerships are the foundation of our model of community release with support our vision of a pretrial justice system that preserves the presumption of innocence and responds to people’s needs with respect and dignity. It’s an honor to be working toward this vision alongside so many dedicated advocates in Spokane.

To learn more about our work in Spokane, listen to Sabrina’s interview on Spokane Public Radio.

*Annabelle is a pseudonym used to protect our client’s privacy.

 

If you had $14 billion dollars a year to invest in solutions to our most pressing social problems, what would you do?

As we bail people out day after day and connect them to voluntary services and programs, we can’t help but imagine the number of health centers, jobs programs, affordable housing units, daycare providers, and more that could be funded with this sum. It would surely go a long way towards breaking the cycle of poverty and criminalization that traps so many Americans in the revolving door of mass incarceration.

But the sad reality is that every year, federal, state, and city governments in the United States spend $14 billion tax dollars jailing people before trial. That’s nearly $40 million a day.

And that figure doesn’t even begin to capture the full economic impact. Including the estimated collateral costs in lost wages, foster care, court costs, etc., researchers have put the total annual cost of pretrial detention at $140 billion.

These lost dollars ripple across entire families and communities, disproportionately draining resources from low-income communities of color and falling particularly hard on women.

Budgets should be about where our priorities lie. And, as a recent Pew poll shows, Americans overwhelmingly support alternatives to pretrial detention, not more incarceration.

As we take our model of community release with support across the country, we seek to demonstrate what the alternative could look like, one that is more humane, equitable, and cost-effective.

This winter, our Tulsa team met Geanell, a young woman who had been in pretrial detention for nearly a week because she couldn’t afford a $2,500 bail.

By the time we interviewed her at the jail, she had suffered anaphylactic shock, likely as a result of stress, and lost two leads for affordable housing. Her husband was about to sell most of their possessions to buy her freedom. Luckily, we were able to post Geanell’s bail and she was reunited with her children and partner while her case was pending.

When Geanell met Michelle from our Tulsa team, she immediately felt like someone was looking out for her. Together they worked to stay on top of court dates, coordinate rides to court, and connect with programs that could help Geanell’s family find a permanent home.

“[Michelle] was there to guide me,” Geanell recalls. “If I didn’t have her or my husband, I’d be in a really different situation.”

Then, a few weeks ago, Geanell received great news: her case had been dismissed. Freedom gave her a fighting chance in court and this chance made all the difference.

“It doesn’t always have to be family,” Geanell said, reflecting on her experience, “but you need someone in your support system.”

Geanell is one of over 200 women in Tulsa that our local team has bailed out and supported since our launch last year, when we decided to focus our Tulsa operations on adapting The Bail Project’s model of community release with support to the unique needs of women in this community.

Women are the fastest growing incarcerated population in the United States, and are disproportionately impacted by cash bail: Black women who cannot afford bail have a median yearly income lower than the average national bail amount. The overwhelming majority of women in jails are mothers, and most are the primary caregivers for their children.

In few places is the increase in women’s incarceration more apparent than in Tulsa, where the number of women in the local jail has grown 3,400 percent from 1970 to today.

Securing adequate support systems in Tulsa is a significant challenge. One in five residents lives below the poverty line and repeated cuts to public services, including healthcare and housing, combined with mass incarceration, have exacerbated an already crushing meth epidemic.

But we can’t afford not to intervene. Working in partnership with the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office, Still She Rises and other community partners, we are extending a lifeline to the woman of Tulsa and reimagining a pretrial system that addresses their needs and protects their dignity.

I’m thrilled to be sharing an update about our work in St. Louis, MO.

As you may know, St. Louis was The Bail Project’s first site. From the beginning, a key goal of our work here was to decarcerate and close The Workhouse, a jail in St. Louis City where nearly everybody is detained before trial and over 90 percent of the people are Black.

The Workhouse is notorious for its horrible conditions – rats, snakes, roaches, overflowing sewage, inadequate medical care, no heat or air conditioning, even on 125 degree days. If there’s a place that will make you throw the towel and take a guilty plea, it’s this jail.

We knew the Workhouse had to close, and that it would take different tactics to make it happen. So, along with our partners Action STL and ArchCity Defenders, we helped start a coalition to Close the Workhouse last year. Bailouts, organizing, public education, storytelling, and civil rights litigation – the coalition combined them all into one powerful movement for equal justice and true freedom, led by people who have been incarcerated at the Workhouse themselves.

One year later, this dream is within reach. Tireless organizing from our community has shifted public opinion in favor of closing the Workhouse, and the success of our St. Louis team in bailing out over 700 people from the Workhouse and providing them with adequate pretrial support has demonstrated that our model offers a viable alternative to cash bail and pretrial detention.

I’m so proud and humbled that our team has been a part of Close the Workhouse. You can learn more about the campaign in the latest episode of BET’s ‘Finding Justice’, which aired over the weekend. The segment features interviews with many of our fellow activists and clients.

We still have a ways to go. There are still about 800 people – overwhelmingly Black people – incarcerated pretrial in St. Louis City. Closing the Workhouse will be a necessary first step in helping us find justice. I look forward to the day I can write back with news that this jail has finally closed its doors forever.

In the meantime, I’ll pass along this shout-out, as it belongs not only to our teams but to everyone who makes The Bail Project possible!

 

From St. Louis to Indianapolis, dozens of Bail Project team members across the country are working zealously to secure freedom for thousands of people, restore the presumption of innocence and combat mass incarceration. With teams in nine cities and counting, we wanted to introduce you to some of them!

Thanks for joining us on this journey. To a future where freedom is truly free.

The story of communities coming together to purchase people’s freedom has been essential to every movement for Black liberation and racial justice – from abolition, to the Civil Rights Movement, all the way until the Black Mamas Bailout and other similar efforts of today.

Pooling funds together to purchase someone’s freedom dates back centuries, to when free Black Americans, oftentimes through their church congregations, would pool together funds to free enslaved people.

In the 20th century, bail funds as political tools of resistance began to spring up. In the 1940s, for example, The Civil Rights Congress (CRC)  – a legal defense organization which fought against the death penalty for Black defendants – created a bail fund to assist those charged with “political crimes.”

By 1951, the CRC’s bail fund had amassed around $770,000 and helped raise awareness of a number of cases, like Rosa Ingram’s. They had also freed countless people incarcerated for being suspected political dissidents. However, the CRC’s bail fund was perhaps too effective in fighting back – in 1952, the federal government deemed the bail fund too “subversive” and liquidated it.

Source: Newspapers.com

Throughout the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, dozens of new funds were created by racial justice organizations to fuel the momentum of activists and ensure that people incarcerated for fighting for racial equity and equality were able to persist.

In 1965, the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the NAACP created a bail fund for activists fighting for school integration in Springfield, MA – a northern city that saw a huge increase in the Black population during the Great Migration and subsequently passed a host of anti-Black laws.

Source: MassLive

 

When 44 Black and white activists were arrested for campaigning in Springfield, CORE and NAACP worked quickly to raise money for bail so that the movement could continue.

These are just two examples of countless bailout actions throughout the 20th century to free activists and ordinary people alike. From serving as a lifeline for social movements to their current use as a potent tool to end mass incarceration, bailouts carry forward the torch of freedom into the 21st century. We’re honored to build on this rich legacy by taking the bail fund model to the next level.