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Nationwide efforts to bail out jailed moms

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: May 17, 2017 - 4:51:19 PM

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Around the country, activists in 16 cities including Oakland, Los Angeles, St. Petersburg, Montgomery, Memphis, Minneapolis, Durham, and Atlanta bailed out mothers who otherwise would have spent Mother’s Day in a cell simply because they cannot afford bail.

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“Money kept them in, Black love got them out,” said Pat Hussain, co-founder of Southerners on New Ground, one of the organizers of “National Mama’s Bail Out Day.”  The goal was to give incarcerated mothers an opportunity to spend Mother’s Day with their families and build community through gatherings that highlight the impact of inhumane and destructive bail practices on Black and poor communities.

According to Department of Justice statistics, any given day in America an average of 700,000 men and women are incarcerated because they can’t afford their bail or a smaller portion for a bond.  Sandra Bland had a $5,000 bail that left her incarcerated for days until she authorities say committed suicide.  Their claim is disputed.

Studies show that since 1980, the number of incarcerated women has grown by 700 percent. Black women are more likely to be incarcerated and are twice as likely as their White counterparts to be jailed. Eight in ten incarcerated women are mothers and nearly half are in local jails, just because they can’t afford their bail.   Many are incarcerated for minor drug and “quality of life” offenses even though they have never been convicted of a crime.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Black women represent 30 percent of all incarcerated women in the U.S., although they represent 13 percent of the female population generally.

Social media was abuzz with activists highlighting the women they bailed out for Mother’s Day using the hashtag #Freeblackmamas.  #FreeBresha @prisonculture wrote: “Yesterday Durham NC bailed out 9 mamas. Apparently they’ll be back at it today too!” The hashtags #FreeBlackMamas #EndCashBail were included.  Other sentiments on social media included: @juliajj who wrote, “Our Mamas are not disposable. We need them back in our communities. They bring us love, justice, healing.” The Dream Defenders, who participated in efforts expressed, @Dreamdefenders, “We got Ms. Theresa out! Everyone’s crying and smiling.”

The Brooklyn Bail Fund is one of the organizations involved with the National Mamas Bail Out. “We have kept over 1,100 New Yorkers out of jail, individuals who are presumptively innocent and who would have been jailed for their poverty alone or compelled to plead guilty just to go home,” says the group. The average bail they pay is $910 and 95 percent of their clients return for all court dates.

They explain the impact of their work on their website:

“The inability to afford bail forces people to plead guilty just to get out of jail, even when they are innocent, or in cases that are weak or involve unlawful arrests. If they don’t, they may spend months behind bars awaiting trial. And while pleading guilty lets them go home, they carry a criminal record for life. Poverty robs them of the presumption of innocence and their right to a fair trial,” it says in part.
“We see the stark inequities bail causes every day in New York City. Rikers Island is filled with presumptively innocent individuals locked up solely because they can’t afford bail. Bail is a primary driver of mass incarceration, wastes public funds and intensifies racial and economic inequalities here in New York and across the nation.”

A crowd-funding effort local to Philadelphia raised more than $20,000 in three days—enough to post the necessary 10 percent of bail for a dozen or more women incarcerated on amounts as low as $5,000, reported Philly.com.

For mothers around the country, many who felt forgotten and lost, National Mamas Bail Out changed their lives and activists want others to get involved.

Reverend Maressa Pendermon, pastor of Unity Fellowship Church of Greater Atlanta in Decatur and a former prison chaplain, told The Atlanta Journal Constitution, “We really don’t need any more churches going into the prison to preach. We need churches that will welcome people back into communities.”

 “That is our mission,” said Rev. Pendermon, “to just be a loving community that people can come home to and reconnect with their families and other resources in the community. We want to journey with them to the next step in their lives.”

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