By Mark F. Gray, Special to the AFRO, [email protected]
Lost behind the well documented stories of acrimony between law enforcement and Black me, there is the less publicized saga of Black women who sit behind bars because they can’t afford to pay bail. Often the women who are held on non violent charges and haven’t demonstrated they were a threat to society pay a hefty price sitting in holding cells waiting for a helping hand to bail them out.
However, this year 106 women were released in time to spend Mother’s Day with their families after the National Bail Out collective, the coalition behind “Black Mama’s Bail Out”, helped reunite mothers with their families to spend quality time on their special day.
“This year was the largest “Black Mama’s Bail Out” yet and we couldn’t be more proud,” said National Bail Out collective Project Director Arissa Hall, in a public statement. “But our fight is far from over. The existence of cash bail and criminal legal system that entraps Black communities continues to devastate families across the nation. We will keep bailing caregivers out of jail, supporting our communities and raising awareness of the broader impacts of bail money and pretrial detention.”
The Free Black Mamas movement has raised nearly $1 million to bail out more than 400 women from jails across the country since its inception in 2017. This year alone 106 women were released in 30 cities that participate in the annual movement from New York to California. This year, the effort raised more than $350,000 and made bail payments for those Black mothers on and around Mother’s Day according to reports.
“One hundred moms were able to spend the holiday with their families, said Erika Maye, Color Of Change deputy senior director, Criminal Justice. “One hundred communities are one step closer to healing because they’ve been reunited with caregivers.”
Black Mama’s Bail Out is a subsidiary of National Bail Out collective (NBO) which promotes itself as a Black-led and Black-centered collective of abolitionist organizers, lawyers and activists building a community-based movement to support Black communities and end systems of pretrial detention and ultimately mass incarceration. NBO is made up of a dozen organizations including Color Of Change, Southerners on New Ground, and others.
According to the 2018 report from the Prison Policy Initiative, women are disproportionately stuck in jails and avoiding pre-trial incarceration is uniquely challenging for them mainly because they can’t afford cash bonds for release.
“The number of unconvicted women stuck in jail is surely not because courts are considering women, who are generally the primary caregivers of children, to be a flight risk,” the report concludes. “The far more likely answer is that incarcerated women, who have lower incomes than incarcerated men, have an even harder time affording cash bail. When the typical bail amounts to a full year’s income for women.”
Of the more than 102,000 Black women who are incarcerated around the United States 89,000 remain in holding by local authorities waiting for their cases to be heard in court. This puts a strain on families and has a catastrophic effect families on children when ladies are the primary caregivers for them.
“We know that the racist system of cash bail continues to hold Black people back across the nation,” Maye adds. “Color Of Change and our members will continue to fight for the complete elimination of cash bail and the collective liberation of Black communities.”
The Collective has even established the Free Black Mamas Fellowship, an eight-week paid fellowship to help mothers who have been bailed out to engage in effective political organizing.