A slew of advocacy groups held a rally in the Bay Area Wednesday calling for the end of harmful pretrial detention systems that disproportionately affect communities of color, as part of the National Bail Out collective’s #FreeBlackMamas campaign.
Essie Justice Group, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, Young Women’s Freedom Center, and others joined with approximately 50 people to elevate the experiences of incarcerated black cis and transgender women and gender non-conforming people. Seeking to draw attention to the reality that black women are incarcerated at disproportionate numbers, activists created the annual #FreeBlackMamas movement to raise funds to bail out black mothers in time for Mother’s Day this Sunday.
— Essie Justice Group (@essie4justice) May 8, 2019
The California-based groups are set to free two black mothers this year, but the campaign is the continuation of years of hard work. It was launched in May 2017 by the National Bail Out collective, a black-led and black-centered collective of abolitionist organizers, lawyers, and activists working to end systems of pretrial detention and mass incarceration.
Jaymeisha Birchett-Jordan, a former recipient of bail-out funds through the campaign, joined the rally with the Essie Justice Group, which is based in Oakland and made up of women and gender non-conforming people who have incarcerated loved ones. Birchett-Jordan was held behind bars at Santa Rita County Jail in Dublin, California, last year. Unable to afford her bail of approximately $60,000, Birchett-Jordan assumed she would be confined on Mother’s Day. But Essie Justice Group contacted her and helped fundraise for her release so she could spend the special day with her child.
The National Bail Out collective and Essie Justice Group have continued to support Birchett-Jordan since she was bailed out in 2018. When she was hit with $450,000 bail at a later court date, the groups raised funds to free her again.
Arissa Hall, director of the collective, told ThinkProgress that they “prioritize building a political community with mamas. Mamas we bail out can become a part of the organization.”
“Mr. Bail Bondsman, we don’t need you. We are bringing her home on our own.” – @Essie4Justice Leader Khadijah
— #FreeBlackMamas (@NationalBailOut) May 9, 2019
Hall works with mothers in National Bail Out’s fellowship program, which she says is a process “full of joy and gratitude.” Fellowships aim to build mothers’ leadership skills, and educate about the carceral system from “a vantage point outside of a cage.”
According to Hall, the collective has raised $1 million in two years. The groups have freed more than 300 mothers since the birth of the campaign in 2017.
National Bail Out campaign groups based in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, California, and Michigan bailed out at least 14 mothers over the past several days.
“I feel like I’m a part of something really big,” Hall said.
The campaign serves to reunite families, but it also highlights the ripple effects that result from mass incarceration. In the United States, more than 500,000 people who have not been convicted of a crime are detained before their trials. In many states, bonds are set without any consideration of a defendant’s ability to pay. Studies have found that black and Latinx people are more likely than white people to be detained without bail. In cases where bail is granted, it is often set at significantly higher rates for people of color.
Over half of people unable to afford bail are parents of minors. A 2010 study found that one in nine black children had an incarcerated parent, who often miss their children’s birthday parties, sporting events, and other important moments as a result of being detained. A child’s living situation is oftentimes disrupted due to a caregiver’s incarceration.
Grassroots movements have rallied against cash bail and the racial inequities exacerbated by the system for decades. In August 2018, California became the first state to abolish cash bail when Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed the California Bail Reform Act into law.
But Essie Justice Group argues that cash bail is replaced at too steep a price under the new law. Judges would have the power to hold anyone arrested pre-trial, relying in part, on predictive risk assessment tools which have been shown to be racially biased. The law could lead to “more and disproportionate incarceration of Black, Brown, and low-income people,” according to Essie Justice Group.