Bail out program lets mothers go home

by Shireen Korkzan

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Over the weekend, more than a dozen social justice-based organizations gave about 30 mothers in jail their freedom for Mother's Day.

These organizations, including Black Lives Matter, the Essie Justice Group and Color for Change, teamed up for a "National Mama's Bail Out Day" initiative to collect more than $250,000 in monetary donations to bail out mothers of color who are in jail because they cannot afford the bail costs. The goal was for these mothers to spend Mother's Day with their families.

"We've found that bail is one of the mechanisms within the criminal justice that punishes those in poverty and disproportionately affects people of color," said Jennifer Kim, director of programs at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, one of the organizations participating in National Mama's Bail Out Day.

"I don't think there's any justification to have your bank account determine whether you sit in jail or whether you get to fight your case from home," she said.

The Ella Baker Center had been promoting National Mama's Bail Out Day via social media and sharing the story of Tracey Bell-Borden, a mother whose daughter was arrested and whose bond was set at $100,000 by a judge. The woman had to pay the bond even after she was released from jail and the charges were dropped. After meeting with a bail bondsman, Bell-Borden was able to reduce the bail cost for her daughter to $10,000, but even that cost was too high. The Oakland, California-based center covered most of Bell-Borden's bill after raising more than $7,000 online.

According to National Bail Out's website, approximately 700,000 people get imprisoned for being unable to pay bail every day, and many of them are black women and transgender women. Four-fifths of incarcerated women are mothers who have not been convicted of any crimes, and most women in jail were arrested for minor offenses, such as marijuana possession or failing to give way to a pedestrian. Nearly one-third of incarcerated people suffer from mental health issues. According to The Movement for Black Lives, another organization participating in National Mama's Bail Out Day, nearly half of black transgender men and women have been incarcerated at some point.

The Mother's Day bailout initiative released mothers from cities throughout the country, including Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, Memphis, Tennessee, and Minneapolis. Some of the locations also provided the newly freed mothers and their families with special homecoming gifts, including a barbecue in Atlanta. At the barbecue, organization leaders provided the mothers and their families resources for rides to court, healthcare, job searching and more.

In addition to National Mama's Bail Out Day, Kim said the Ella Baker Center is also promoting change by pushing legislation through the California State Legislature, including the California Money Bail Act (SB 10 and AB 42), which seeks to eliminate the state's bail system for most misdemeanors and certain nonviolent felonies.

In March, California State Rep. Ted Lieu introduced HR 1437 – No Money Bail Act of 2017. If passed into law, the No Money Bail Act would "discourage the use of payment of money as a condition of pretrial release in criminal cases, and for other purposes."

Kim said she hopes changing the current legal system directly will eliminate the need for making National Mama's Bail Out Day an annual event.

"My hope is … we change the system and therefore we won't need to fundraise in this manner," she said.

[Shireen Korkzan is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Her email address is]​

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