Nationally, over half a million people are held in local jails, and a majority of them are being held pre-trial because they cannot afford their bail.
Ending the practice of money bail has garnered widespread attention in recent years. Research has shown that money bail does not improve public safety and does not increase the likelihood of ensuring a person's appearance in court. Furthermore, jailing people because they cannot afford bail is essentially wealth-based detention, which violates established values of fairness, equal protection, and due process outlined in the constitution. Money bail and pre-trial detention have devastating consequences for individuals, families, and communities. When people are arrested and held on bail, they are put at risk of losing their jobs, housing, and custody of children. Moreover, people who are jailed because of the inability to post bail are often left vulnerable to accepting plea agreements as a way to get out of jail. These consequences disproportionately impact low-income communities of color.
The clear injustices of the money bail system led us to launch our End Money Bail and Pre-trial Detention Campaign in 2017, starting with our Black Mama's Day Bail Out. Since Mother's Day 2017, we have bailed over 30 black women and other community members out of jail and provided supportive services such as housing, job support, legal support, support with paying electricity bills, and transportation.
In Shelby County, there are more than 2,000 people who are confined to jail — these are our mamas, siblings, and caregivers. Their lives, dreams, and futures matter to us, and we know that a cage is no place for the people we love. When they are locked away in pre-trial detention awaiting their trial or for their case to be resolved, our families and communities suffer. Children miss school, bedtime stories, family dinners, and meaningful time with their parents. Communities miss out on the laughs, wisdom, and care that our caregivers provide when they are confined to jail because they do not have the money to pay for bail. Just one day in jail has a huge impact on community members and their communities.
This year will be our third year bailing out black mamas and caregivers for Mother's Day. We focus on black women (both cis and trans) because they have continuously been victims of the vicious criminal legal system, but their experiences are often overlooked and excluded from conversations about reform. When black mamas and caregivers are taken from our communities, they are confined to jails that lack adequate mental health care, forced to eat food that lacks nutrition, and forced to sleep in overcrowded jail cells.
The criminal legal system often arrests and locks people in overcrowded jails while people are in their most vulnerable state, often destroying their dreams and what they've worked so hard to build. Because we know this, we are committed to doing what this system cannot and will not do: meeting the supportive services needs of our mamas and caregivers. A donation to our bail out is a donation to making sure caregivers are home with their loved ones this holiday, with the support that they need. Donations from the past have helped us provide housing, health care, transportation, and job support to community members we bail out. It is our hope that our other community members will work with us again to raise money to bail out the people who mean so much to our communities.
We are committed to fighting for the freedom and humanity of our people and creating communities where our people have their basic needs met. And in the tradition of our ancestors and elders, we are paying for each other's freedom until bail and pre-trial detention are abolished and our government invests in our communities. We are working to redefine public safety so that it includes investment in our communities and divestment from systems and institutions that fail to keep us safe.
Our families and loved ones deserve freedom, not cages. They deserve to live in communities where public safety is an investment into stronger supportive services infrastructure and divestment from ineffective and inhumane policing, prosecution, and jails.
We invite people to join this movement by donating to our fund at https://midsouthpeace.org/blm. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more ways to get involved with our campaign to end money bail and pre-trial detention.
Shahidah Jones, Erica Perry, and Briana Perry are with the Official Black Lives Matter Memphis Chapter.