How Black Women Are Leading The Way On Bail Reform
Bill Oxford

Sen. Kamala Harris took a bold step for criminal justice reform recently by introducing legislation that encourages alternatives to money bail.

Money bail is one of the engines of the mass incarceration of Black communities, essentially criminalizing poverty by jailing poor people who cannot to pay bail—even when these people have not been convicted of a crime.

While many have praised Harris, her bill has made her a target of one of the leading profiteers of mass incarceration: the commercial bail industry. Led by unsavory figures like Beth Chapman—the wife of infamous racist reality TV star Dog the Bounty Hunter—the multi-billion dollar bail industry is committed to defending its bottom line through the exploitation of Black folks in poverty.

To stop them, it’s crucial to support Black women like Kamala Harris who are working to reform our bail system.

Over the past several decades, the bail industry has expanded its impact on the criminal justice system. Every day, an average of 700,000 people—who are legally presumed innocent and have not been convicted of a crime—are locked up and separated from their families simply because they can’t afford to purchase their freedom.

The cost of money bail falls disproportionately on Black women. Nearly 80 percent of women in jails are mothers, and most of them have only been accused—not found guilty—of minor drug or “public order” offenses.

When mothers languish in jail because of money bail, our families and communities suffer. The costs are devastating. Women often lose their jobs, housing, or even children, only to be found innocent. Some women, like Sandra Bland, have lost their lives. And the cost to the children they nurture, the partners they love, and the communities they hold is incalculable.

But across the country, Black women are stepping up to lead the fight to #EndMoneyBail.

Women like Tasha Jackson, an Organizing Director for the Texas Organizing Project. In Houston, Jackson has collaborated with my organization, Color Of Change, to organize communities for bail reform, including removing the former pro-bail district attorney and pressuring the current D.A. and sheriff to commit to bail reform.

Meanwhile in California the Essie Justice Group—led by Gina Clayton—is organizing women with incarcerated loved ones for statewide reform of the bail and criminal justice system. Through training, storytelling and direct action, they are putting those most impacted by the system—our families—at the forefront of this fight.

Black femmes are also leading a powerful effort to educate people about bail while getting our loved ones out of what amount to modern day debtors prisons. In May, Color Of Change and Black organizers around the country answered the call by Mary Hooks of Southerners on New Ground to bail Black mamas out of jail for Mother’s Day.

Together, we bailed out more than 100 mothers, and that effort continued last month with our Black August Bail Out.

The bail industry has declared war on Black women and our families. But we’re not fighting against them—we’re fighting for our communities and loved ones. Join us by finding a way to transform the bail system in your community. Whether it’s by donating to a bail fund, knocking on doors for an organization that’s advocating for bail reform, or starting your own petition with Color Of Change’s OrganizeFor platform, the best way to see change is to be part of it.

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