Community Bail Funds as a Tool for Prison Abolition

Click here to read all posts in our Money Bail series, including the introductory post presenting an LPE perspective on pretrial detention and Part I of this post on “Moving from Ending Money Bail to Demanding Pretrial Freedom.”

Brett Davidson, Elisabeth Epps, Sharlyn Grace, and Atara Rich-Shea—

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(endmoneybond.org)

We direct bail funds in Chicago, Colorado, Connecticut, and Massachusetts that are deep in the fight to end wealth-based incarceration. Collectively, our four community bail funds have purchased the freedom of more than 4,000 people at a cost of over $3 million. Our organizations intervene at the point of release, paying bail for those who cannot pay themselves and developing strategies to end pretrial incarceration. When people are free while awaiting trial, they have better case and life outcomes, which makes bailing people out one effective way to lessen the impact of criminalization on individuals, families, and communities.

But bail funds do much more than just pay bail: we are organizing hubs in community and key players in the larger movement for prison abolition. In total, more than 60 community bail funds across the country play leadership roles through diverse tactics running the gamut from policy development and courtwatching to direct action and participatory defense campaigns. The mission of community bail funds is to organize to make ourselves obsolete—not only because there are no more bails to pay, but because we have ended pretrial incarceration and supervision. Continue reading

Moving from Ending Money Bail to Demanding Pretrial Freedom

Click here to read all posts in our Money Bail series, including the introductory post presenting an LPE perspective on pretrial detention.

Brett Davidson, Elisabeth Epps, Sharlyn Grace, and Atara Rich-Shea—

CJEWebsitediagrams2As directors of community bail funds in Chicago, Colorado, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, we know that money bail is not and has never been the entire or only problem. As tempting as it is to believe that ending money bail is the cure to pretrial injustice, we must recognize it as merely one piece of a much larger system of racialized social control. If money bail were eliminated tomorrow, the state would maintain many other insidious ways to punish people awaiting trial, such as through home confinement, financial penalties, surveillance and monitoring, allegations of “violations,” and jailing through outright denial of release.

As the public increasingly understands and rejects money bail, the system is attempting to regain legitimacy by shifting around resources and co-opting movement messaging. Over the past five years, many system stakeholders and elected officials have responded to the call to end money bail by proposing or adopting versions of “bail reform” that pluck money bail from the larger conversation about pretrial incarceration and supervision, and focus on only the most basic injustices. Efforts that create new pretrial supervision structures, implement risk assessment tools that put people into detention and release categories, and abolish the use of money bail for only “low-level” charges can all result in increased surveillance and supervision by the criminal legal system. These changes also further the idea that only some people deserve to be released while awaiting trial and frequently fail to result in any actual decarceration. Most importantly, these policy changes rarely, if ever, involve the courts relinquishing power over the marginalized people they harm. The next phase of pretrial advocacy must transform the simple call to “End Money Bail” into a vision of expanded pretrial freedom for all—moving our society closer to a future where we do not respond to all harm or inconvenience with cops, courts, and cages. Continue reading