The Bail Project

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A collection of news stories about The Bail Project’s efforts across the country.

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!...

Since launching in June 2018, the Bail Project in Detroit has bailed out almost 200 people, including 72 fathers. On June 15, this past Father's Day, the Bail Project and Detroit Justice Center hosted a celebration with fathers who likely would have been incarcerated that day had they not received help posting bond. Reflecting on her work, bail disruptor Asia Johnson said, "When I see clients like Chris and Abigail, I know that it is worth the fight. ...

When 19-year-old Daehaun White was released from jail in St. Louis, he was so overjoyed that he forgot to check in with a representative for the company EMASS, which straps black boxes with GPS monitoring onto the ankles of people on pretrial release. Soon, White's arrest on minor charges spiraled into a debt exceeding $800, all owed to a company that charges defendants $10 a day plus other excessive fees. The city of St. Louis offers defendants no hearing to determine whether they can pay fees for such onerous surveillance....

A federal judge ruled last week that St. Louis jails – including the infamous Workhouse where over 90% of people are detained pretrial – can’t incarcerate people simply because they can’t pay bail. The judge cited data from our St. Louis site in ruling that: “There is no evidence that financial conditions of release are more effective than alternatives for ensuring court appearance and public safety.” However, as of now, St. Louis courts are holding up new bail hearings for people entitled to them. Summarized by Jacob Koffler...

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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyTihQz0owk 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!  ...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6Njv8z_i7A 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....