For Black women and their communities, the novel coronavirus is making matters even worse. So, National Bail Out is freeing Black mothers and caregivers from jail and supporting them once they’re out. Donate to their efforts here.
Thousands of Black women are currently trapped in jails, which elevates their risks related to the COVID-19 outbreak. In recent decades, the number of women and girls incarcerated in prisons and jails has grown exponentially. Today, there are over 230,000 women incarcerated in jails and prisons, which is a 750% increase from 1980. More women are incarcerated in jails than state prisons, which stands in contrast to trends in incarceration amongst men. The 114,000 women — 30% of whom are Black — are often held in cages simply because they do not have the funds to bail themselves out. The National Bail Out (NBO) is a Black-led and Black-centered collective of abolitionist organizers, lawyers and activists building a movement to end pretrial detention and ultimately mass incarceration all while supporting Black communities. As a tactic, they have bailed out countless numbers of Black mothers from jail over the years for mother’s day through their annual #FreeBlackMamas campaign.
In light of the novel coronavirus — which is posed to have devastating effects on those incarcerated — NBO is not only bailing Black mothers and caregivers out of jail, the coalition is providing weeks of groceries, assistance with rent, and providing holistic support services to all those that they free from jail to help them weather the outbreak.
Legacies of structural racism, exploitative capitilism, and hetero-patriarchy all intersect to shape the realities of mass incarceration for Black mothers and caregivers. Nearly 60% of women in jails have not been convicted of a crime and are waiting on trials. Jails are known to be especially dangerous for women, including those that are queer and trans. Both jails and prisons are responsible for devastating families and communities. But conditions in jails can be uniquely harsh and inhumane, and health care is known to be horrendous. In jail, the price to make a phone call is exceptionally high and there are often a number of limitations on communication that make maintaining bonds with family members and loved ones especially difficult. But in women’s facilities, 80% of those incarcerated are mothers. Over 60% of women in prison have a child under the age of 18. Moreover, a number of women enter into facilities pregnant and past statistics estimate that at least 1,400 women give birth in unsafe prisons and jails, and after their babies are often taken from them, limiting the possibility of bonding, breastfeeding, and parental rights more broadly.
In recent decades, the rate of growth of women’s incarceration has doubled that of men’s, which is largely a result of the jailing of women as opposed to imprisonment, and has disportionately targeted Black women. Jails, as well as prisons, cause lasting damage to those who experience incarceration and tear apart families and communities.
These communities need supportive services outside of jails, not incarceration. In effect, punishment—as opposed to supporting and investing in the health and wellness of impacted communities—has become the priority and it has caused grave public health concerns that the coronavirus is only exposing and exacerbating. While some localities have made moves to decarcerate jails, not all have, and many Black women—disproportionately mothers who are the primary caregivers to their children—are being held in jail for no other reason than not having the funds to bail themselves out. While some localities and states are abolishing cash bail, instead of using those funds to support Black women in their communities, it is being channelled to other punitive tools such as risk-assessment models and electronic monitoring. And while recent efforts have focused on freeing people who were charged with specific, non-serious offenses — that will not end the public health emergency that mass incarceration has created.
Jails are disproportionately putting Black women — and the entire country— at even further risk of Coronavirus and complicated outcomes by keeping them in cages where they are often in close proximity with one another and have to engage in unavoidable interactions with jail staff who may be infected with the virus. Put simply, you can’t social distance inside a cage. Once the virus begins to spread in jails, experts have warned that it will be nearly impossible to contain. Black mothers and caregivers should be allowed to navigate the outbreak in ways that prioritize their health, and being in jail is not aligned with that. But beyond that, prison is not a place for people. Prison abolitionists, such as Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Angela Davis, and Mariame Kaba, have long called for the end of prisons and the development of alternative, non-punitive systems to address violence and harm. Prisons and jails are centered on punishment, and have done little to actually make communities across the country safer. But in the immediate, groups such as NBO are using tactics such as bailouts to free Black mothers and caregivers from jails, supporting them once they’re out, all while working to end systems of punishment more generally. COVID-19 is illuminating what abolitionists have said for decades: cages are no place for people.
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