Black Lives Matter, Color of Change and dozens of groups affiliated with the racial and criminal justice movement were able to raise over $500,000 to bail black mothers out of jail in time to celebrate Mother’s Day with their families this past weekend.
In addition to buying freedom for dozens of women, the National Black Mamas Bail Out Day sought to raise awareness about the harm caused by America’s bail system and its impact on black women and their families.
“Our corrupt criminal justice system forces innocent people who pose no threat to purchase their freedom,” says Ruth Jeannoel, a black mother and community organizer. “The costs are devastating. Women oftentimes lose their homes, jobs or even children just to be found innocent. Some women like Sandra Bland have even lost their lives.”
“Black people have a tradition of using our collective resources to buy each other’s freedom,” said Mary Hooks, co-director of the Atlanta chapter of Southerners on New Ground (SONG). “We have an opportunity to do that when we understand how the cash bail system works. The sooner we can get folks out, the ability for them to mitigate their cases increases and the less collateral damage they are likely to incur.”
The female incarcerated population has increased by 700 percent since 1980, with over 100,000 women currently sitting in jail, many because they are unable to make bail. 80 percent of those women are mothers. Black women are twice as likely to be incarcerated as white women, and one in five transgender women have spent time in jail.
90 percent of people awaiting trial are unable to afford their bail, which on average is set at about $10,000. According to Bureau of Justice Statistics data, the average person in jail had a median income of $15,109 prior to being incarcerated.
A major part of the Black Lives Matter national policy platform is criminal justice reform and the elimination of the discriminatory cash bail system, which essentially penalizes people for being poor.
Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to pursue the toughest possible charges and sentences for drug crimes, including mandatory minimums, reversing an Obama-era policy that called for ease in sentencing for nonviolent offenders. Sessions announcement alarmed criminal justice reformers who called the development uninformed by data and ignorant to bi-partisan agreement over the need for an overhaul.
Media Resources: Mother Jones 5/12/17; Prison Policy Initiative 5/10/16; Huffington Post 5/10/17; New York Times 5/12/17