By Ashleigh Fields,
AFRO Assistant Editor
Several women’s rights organizations from around the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area have come together to free Black women who are jailed before trial or serving time in prison.
Life After Release, Out for Justice, Harriet’s Wildest Dreams and many others that collectively work under “#FreeBlackMamasDMV” are meeting the need for relief regarding Black women in the criminal justice system.
Their efforts aim to abolish the cash bail system and reform pretrial detention policy. According to the Justice Policy Institute, there are “15,000 bail bond agents in the United States, writing about $14 billion worth of bonds annually.” The bail industry profits $2 billion annually and is disproportionately funded by Black and Brown people living in low-income communities.
“The Black women who are sitting in jail because of bail they can’t afford, deserve to be free and home with their families,” said Samantha Master #FreeBlackMamasDMV co-founder. “Black women are most likely out of any group to be heads of household. Which means we are left economically strangled by these situations.”
Master went on to explain circumstances that create cycles causing a Black mother to be imprisoned for the simple fact that she cannot afford to be free. Once imprisoned, mothers may miss work– which only increases their debt.
Restitution payments, a buildup of unpaid tickets and backed up paperwork can prevent families from being reunited. For Master and many others this is personal. She shared the horrors from lived experiences while trying to rescue a loved one from a jail cell.
“I have seen first hand the lengths that Black women will go to to protect their incarcerated loved ones and I don’t see that same fervor for those incarcerated Black women,” said Master. “This is a direct intervention of Black women to Black women.”
#FreeBlackMamasDMV was established in 2017 as a part of a larger movement created by the National Bail Out Collective through the #FreeBlackMamas campaign. The formation has grown to include over a dozen community based organizations that are increasing public consciousness about the callousness of money bail.
According to information released by the organization, “every year, millions of people are coerced into paying money bail after they’re arrested just to remain free while their cases are processed. Even though these individuals are still innocent in the eyes of the law, they and their families or communities are forced to pay non-refundable 10 percent deposits to for-profit bail bonds companies.”
#FreeBlackMamasDMV is powered by community donations which they call “the collection basket of freedom.”
As they travel across Maryland and Virginia paying fees as small as $50 for the release of Black women, the organization also prides itself in also offering support services. They provide access to healthcare, jobs, ways of covering legal fees and travel to and from court in addition to cell-phone services and to what they characterize as dignified housing.
“We believe we are a better alternative to jail and when the court listens it’s been proven to work. We’ve seen this from assaults to first-degree murders, those who stay in our programs will have their cases dropped,” said Master. “When the community shows up people’s chances shift.”
In order to get more engagement and donations the organization began hosting a series of events during a week of action. This included their annual skate party fundraiser at Anacostia Park hosted by Harriet’s Wildest Dreams a week ahead of mother’s day.
“I am a mother who spend two and a half years in prison and I have gone through this process and to be able to free a mother from incarceration on mother’s day brings me solace and comfort for the time that I spent away from my sons,” said Qiana Johnson , co-conductor and founder of Harriet’s Wildest Dreams.
This year, the two-day event raised close to $3,000.
“We monitor the courts through our court watching program. We noticed that a lot of Black women were not able to bond out, they either had no bond or home monitoring,” said Johnson.
In the District, cash bail was largely done away with in the 1990s, however those who are released pretrial are often required to register with the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. However, those who are placed on this electronic monitoring system have to pay fees which combined with court costs are unaffordable for many.
“I have a deep belief that none of us are the worst thing we’ve done on the worst day of our lives; As long as I am in community I want to help people who are returning from the cage, keep people away from the cage, while we do the work of breaking all cages,” said Master. “This work answers people’s prayers.”
The goal this year is to raise $40,000 to free Black mothers across D.C., Maryland and Virginia. The organization currently received $29,746 in donations and they are actively seeking more support.
Those who are interested in donating can contribute at https://givebutter.com/nHSrnp.
Life After Release does jail support every Friday from 6-9pm at the PG County Correctional Center.
To sign up email firstname.lastname@example.org