Why focus on cash bail?
Cash bail, by definition, is a form of conditional release for a person who has been accused of a crime, but has yet to have a trial. The idea is simple: require people to put an amount of money they can afford on the line and they will have a financial incentive to come back to court until their case is resolved.
Over the past few decades, however, cash bail has become a mechanism for incarcerating low-income people before trial. This bail system has increased the jail population by millions thus exacerbating America’s incarceration problem. According to a report by the Vera Institute for Justice, the number of annual jail admissions doubled in the past three decades to 12 million, and the average length of stay increased from 14 to 23 days. Making it worse, judges routinely set bail amounts that people cannot afford, particularly for people of color. As a result, we have a two-tier system where two individuals charged with exactly the same thing are treated differently based on their race and economic status.
Where does the money go?
All money raised by the Bail Fund goes directly towards bail and other support —advocacy, reentry items, rides to court—for people incarcerated in Tuscaloosa.
How are you deciding who gets Bail Out funds?
We use data to identify incarcerated people who have or who are likely to spend a significant time in jail due to inability to post bond. Overall, because getting more people out of jail as quickly as possible increases the safety of everyone, we are prioritizing people with lower bond amounts. As we continue to fundraise, we will continuously reevaluate our criteria to ensure they align with the antiracist and social justice values of the organizations who have inspired this work.
How does this work?
Volunteers from the Tuscaloosa Bail Out regularly visit the county jail to meet with potential clients and help them complete needs assessment surveys and consent forms. We also heavily rely on our network of community members, lawyers, and various other individuals to obtain information on potential clients and their needs. Once our donations are sufficient to provide bond, a Bail Out volunteer returns to the jail and provides cash bond for our client. Bail Out volunteers ensure that the client has a safe place to stay and is connected with any reentry support they need.