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—

illinois-pretrial-justice-network-for-web-25

(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

“Bail Reform” & Carceral Control: A Critique of New York’s New Bail Laws

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

Survived & Punished NY—

71147498_1324835751016861_5593809575754072064_n

Criminal punishment system reforms and reformers have gained traction in jurisdictions across the United States. At the same time, movements for prison-industrial complex (PIC) abolition have grown in size and visibility. New York State has experienced both of these trends. While New York officials have passed bail, sentencing, discovery, and other reforms at both state and city levels, various abolitionist collectives have begun targeting New York politicians to demand more structural change.

We are members of Survived & Punished NY, a grassroots, prison abolitionist organization dedicated to ending the criminalization of survivors of gender-based violence. Here, we present an abolitionist critique of New York’s recent bail reform statute, and call for a bolder vision of freedom and a broader scope of change. Legitimating pretrial incarceration and supervision, the bail reform statute is an example of a “reformist” reform that entrenches and will likely spawn new manifestations of the PIC.

Passed on April 1, 2019, the legislative bail reform package took effect in January 2020. Its stated purpose is to eliminate money bail and traditional jailing for many people charged with, but not convicted of, a crime. Under the New York legislative bail reform package, fewer people should be sent to jail pretrial. However, even if implemented to its fullest extent, the bail reform is not genuinely transformative because it divides people into categories of deserving/not deserving, it allows for growth in other forms of carceral control aside from traditional jailing, and, ultimately, it does not challenge the premise of pretrial incarceration. Continue reading

Building Power by Building Connections: Domestic Worker Organizing for Collective Freedom

This is the first post in our series on Care Work. Click here to read all posts in the series. 

Irene Jor—

Domestic workers are essential to our economy and society. They are the nannies that take care of children, the house cleaners that maintain homes, and the care workers that allow aging loved ones to live independently and with dignity. They constitute a workforce that frees up their employers to pursue their careers and improve their quality of life. Domestic employers are doctors, lawyers, professors, business owners, CEOs, media executives, celebrity performers, professional athletes, politicians, and diplomats. Their economic participation shapes mainstream culture and social policy. Thus, we all benefit from the labor of domestic workers, even when we do not directly receive their care.

Nevertheless, because domestic work has been devalued in the formal economy, the sector is fraught with exploitation and abuse. Domestic workers have suffered a long history of exclusion from basic labor standards that is rooted in America’s legacy of slavery. Domestic workers were specifically excluded from federal labor protections like minimum wage and the right to unionize. The contemporary U.S. domestic worker movement, led by the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), has sought to extend such labor protections to the sector by winning passage of Domestic Workers Bills of Rights in nine states and two municipalities. More recently it has also been experimenting with policy innovations like a sectoral standards board and portable benefits fund. Still, policy advocacy alone will not fully ensure justice for domestic workers.

I began organizing alongside domestic workers as a college student in 2011. I went on to work full-time for the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) from 2013 to 2019. As the New York director of the NDWA, I organized to enforce the state’s Bill of Rights, the first of its kind. I came to understand that forming, maintaining, and nurturing relationships is as essential to grassroots domestic workers’ organizing as it is to domestic work itself. By doing so, we were able to approach the enforcement of domestic workers’ rights creatively and to foster domestic workers’ leadership in shifting the broader political landscape. Continue reading

Organizing Towards a New Vision of Community Justice

NB: This post is part of an ongoing series on LPE & Social Movements. For the framing pieces, see here and here

Raj Jayadev and Pilar Weiss – 

social-movementsThe current criminal legal system has consistently weaponized the role of “the community” in its proceedings – often claiming that decisions have been made to achieve justice for “the community” or to protect “community” safety. As increased awareness of the incarceration crisis across the country has changed some of the dynamics in our public discourse, similar patterns invoking “the community” have remained. Mainstream political candidates openly claim they are progressive and offer reformist reforms in the name of “the community.” The experiences of people of color, the poor, the LGBTQ community, and immigrants in the criminal legal system have of course been that these claims of action and reform in the name of “the community” are not reflective of their actual needs or priorities.

In contrast, all across the country, activists and organizers are building a grassroots movement that is seeking to realize a different vision of justice, one that is based on a radical repositioning of “the community” and its power. This is a fight based on survival but also one seeking to shift power from those who have historically held it to those who have been historically disempowered, under-resourced, targeted by the system, and most impacted by structural inequalities. Law professor Jocelyn Simonson has written previously on the place of “the people” in criminal procedure, reimagining a more inclusive role of the public in the criminal process. Similarly, as the movement to end incarceration continues to develop and gains momentum, the organizing that fuels it is actively contesting the place of “community.” This repositioning of community extends beyond the immediate actions in front of us; it situates the community as the drivers of what the ultimate realization of a new vision of justice, healing, and power will look like.

In this piece, we hope to describe some examples of the spectrum of organizing tactics and practices that are currently part of both the repositioning of community and the creation of pathways towards the transformative vision abolitionist organizers have set out. As two long-time community organizers who work with dozens of community-based organizations and hundreds of organizers and families through our work with Silicon Valley De-Bug, the Community Justice Exchange, the National Participatory Defense Network, and the National Bail Fund Network, we are privileged to be part of the daily work and also see a developing arc. When we, as organizers, refer to “the community,” we are referring to individuals and their families, neighborhood, and those with a common interest and/or shared identity who are all directly impacted by structural inequalities. We don’t assume that there are any definitive answers at this point, but instead that we are in the middle of a process of finding ways to take power and define what justice in the name of “community” actually means.

Continue reading