By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
As public support for criminal justice reform continues to grow — and the pandemic ups the ante — advocates remain adamant that it’s more important than ever that the facts be clear and that everything the world understands the big picture.
“The United States does not have a ‘criminal justice system’; instead, we have thousands of federal, state, local and tribal systems,” Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner found in a study published by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative.
“Together, these systems hold nearly 2 million people in 1,566 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,850 local prisons, 1,510 juvenile correctional facilities, 186 migrant detention centers and 82 Indian country prisons, as well as in military prisons, civil service centers, state establishments. psychiatric hospitals and prisons in U.S. territories,” the study authors said in a press release.
With hundreds of thousands locked up in jails almost daily, many find it difficult to post bail.
Recognizing the continuing problem of mass incarceration in the United States and the difficulties families face in bailing out their loved ones, a new organization was created in 2018 to offer some relief.
The Bail Project, a national charity fund for remand prisoners, began with a vision to fight mass incarceration by disrupting the bail system.
Adrienne Johnson, regional director of The Bail Project, told NNPA’s Let It Be Known that the organization seeks to accomplish its mission one person at a time.
“We are on a mission to do exactly what we hope our criminal justice system would do: protect the presumption of innocence, reunite families and challenge a system that we know can criminalize poverty,” Johnson said.
“Our mission is to end cash bail and create a more just, equitable and humane pretrial system,” she insisted.
Johnson said the Bronx Freedom Fund, then a new revolving surety fund launched in New York, planted the seeds for the surety project more than a decade ago.
“Because the bond is returned at the end of a deal, we can create a sustainable revolving fund where philanthropic dollars can be used multiple times a year, maximizing the impact of each contribution,” Johnson said.
In addition to posting bail at no cost to the individual or their family, The Bail Project strives to connect its clients to social services and community resources based on an individual’s identified needs, including addiction treatment, mental health support, stable housing and employment.
Johnson noted that officials created a cash bond to entice people to return to court.
Instead, she said, judges routinely set cash bail far beyond most people’s ability to afford it, resulting in the incarceration of thousands of legally innocent people in jail. awaiting court dates.
According to The Bail Project, black Americans are disproportionately affected by cash bail, and of all black Americans in jail in the United States, nearly half are from southern prisons.
“There is no way to advance pretrial reform without addressing the harmful effects of cash bail in the South,” said Robin Steinberg, founder and CEO of The Bail Project.
“Cash bail fuels racial and economic disparities in our legal system, and we look forward to supporting the Greenville community as we work to eliminate cash bail and put ourselves out of business.”
Since its launch, The Bail Project has stationed teams in more than 25 cities, posting bail for more than 18,000 people nationwide.
Johnson said the organization uses its national revolving bail fund, funded by individual donations, to pay bail.
The Bail Project has spent over $47 million on bail.
“When we post bail for one person, we post the full amount in cash in court,” Johnson said.
“Once the case is resolved, the money goes to whoever posted. So if I paid $5,000 to bail someone out, we then help the person get back to court and resolve the case” , she continued.
“The money then comes back to us, and we can use that money to help someone else. So we recycle that.
Johnson said eliminating cash bail and the need for bail funds remained the goal.
“It’s the only thing to do. It restores the presumption of innocence and it restores families,” Johnson said.