I was one paragraph into the article about our bail system and the women suffering from it when I could feel my blood pressure rising. I thought about how much money I had in my checking account and wondered how many women I could bail out with it (not much). The idea that a woman would spend 150 days in jail over a $300 bail which could be covered with a $30 bond was unconscionable.
For those who are not familiar with the U.S. Justice System (ignore the irony of the use of the word justice), you are about to have your world flipped. Here’s how it works: Someone is arrested for a crime This person is usually black because as you know, the U.S. has a long and proud history of racism. For the rest of this blog I will be talking about Black Women. She has been arrested but not convicted of a crime. However, like the Salem witch trials, the accusation is enough. She is held in jail until her case finally makes it through the clogged court system so she can see a judge and they can decide if she even committed a crime.
This is ridiculous, you say. How could we keep people in jail when they haven’t been convicted? Don’t worry—if you have the means, you can buy your way out. If this sounds like how rich people avoided serving in wars while poor children die, it should. The U.S. also has a history of setting up torturous systems that the rich can buy their way out off—it goes hand in hand with the history of racism.
Once she is arrested a bail is set and it can be $300 or it can be $3,000 (or much more, of course). Statistically speaking, if you are being arrested for a petty charge like shoplifting, driving without a license, or possession of an illicit drug you are most likely not flush. Generally people don’t steal $40 worth of merchandise when they have $300 in their pocket. So she can’t pay her bail. That’s okay, because we have bail bondsmen who will cover her $300 if she pays them 10% as a bond. The bail bondsman will get the full $300 back when she shows up for court but she’ll never see that 10% again.
What if she doesn’t have the 10%? On a $3,000 bail the bond is still $300. Most people don’t have that lying around. In Philadelphia, where I’m writing from, the poverty rate is 25.7% meaning that a quarter of the population are living on less than $24,000 a year for a family of four. Since we know that arrest rates are correlated with poverty rates we can guess how many women aren’t going to be able to pay even the bond. So they sit in jail.
The average person in Philadelphia spends 25 days in jail before trial. Imagine what would happen if you were missing from your life for 25 days—who is watching your children? Who is caring for your aging parent? Who is paying your rent and utilities? Did you lose your job? I know I wouldn’t have a job if I didn’t show up for a month. But, you say, this wouldn’t happen to me cause I don’t commit crimes. Well, we don’t know if these women have committed a crimes either. The mostly commonly known phrase about the U.S. Justice System is “innocent until proven guilty” which is exactly the opposite of the cash bail system. It incarcerates people who have not been proven guilty.
In steps the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund who organized the Mama’s Day Bailout. This is a community organization that fundraises to bail people out of jail so they can live their lives while they await trial. In 2017 they bailed out 13 mothers before mother’s day… it cost $60,000. That’s an average of $4,615 per mother.
“Women are the fastest growing population in prison and black women are incarcerated at four times the rate of white women. Although we will bail out only black women and black gender-nonconforming people for Mother’s Day, the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund raises funds to bail out all those held in Philadelphia jails year-round. So far, we have brought 47 people home.”
For mother’s day this year I made a donation to Philly Bail Out to #FreeBlackMamas in my mother’s name. I encourage you to do the same. If you are so lucky as to be able to spend the day with your mother or your children, help another mother do the same.
“We focus on black women for our Mama’s Day Bailout because we believe that when we center those who are most marginalized, we work for the liberation of all people.” This sentiment describes feminism perfectly. If you are only focused on your own liberation you are not a feminist—you are just self-interested. Feminism must work to raise everyone up and by starting with those who are the most marginalized, the most oppressed, we by default raise up everyone who is less so.
Article by Claire Ryder
VERVE Operative USA & Humanitarian Activist