by Bilen Mesfin Packwood and Layla Crater
Oakland – Ahead of Mother’s Day, Bay Area leaders and advocates hosted a press conference as part of National Mama’s Bail Out Day, a coordinated effort to bail out Black “mamas” – mothers and other transgender and cisgender women – who would otherwise spend Mother’s Day in a cell because they are unable to afford bail.
“Mother’s Day is the one day per year where we get to uplift what mothers really want, and I think for Black mothers an honest answer is freedom. That means freedom from the claws of a predatory bail industry and freedom from the cell of a jail,” said Gina Clayton, founder and executive director of Essie Justice Group. “In the U.S., one in two Black women has a family member incarcerated. We hope that our action will send a clear message that Black women and those who love us are done being the vulnerable targets of the bail industry.”
Organized by the Movement for Black Lives and originally proposed by Southerners on New Ground, the National Mama’s Bail Out Day campaign highlights the impact of inhumane and destructive bail practices on Black communities and supports local organizing efforts against mass incarceration. More than a dozen national and local racial and criminal justice organizations around the country participated in the national campaign to provide incarcerated women an opportunity to spend Mother’s Day with their families.
“Black Lives Matter Bay Area is committed to fighting for all Black lives, and fighting against all systems of oppression,” said Karissa Lewis, organizer for Black Lives Matter Bay Area. “Black mamas are deeply impacted by an unjust justice system. Today, we get to bring some of those mamas home.”
Oakland-based Essie Justice Group, Black Lives Matter Bay Area and the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office joined the national action to spotlight the voices of California women with incarcerated loved ones whose families are being torn apart by the harmful practice of money bail. The press conference also rallied support for the California Money Bail Reform Act of 2017 (AB 42 and SB 10), which will reform the state’s unjust bail-for-profit system once passed.
“No one should be forced to take a plea deal just to get out of jail. Unfortunately, that’s the reality faced by our clients every single day,” said Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods, the first African American appointed by the Board of Supervisors to be the chief public defender in Alameda County. Since taking office four years ago, Mr. Woods has shifted the office toward a “holistic” model that recognizes people also need help with the collateral consequences of getting arrested, and they need support to get their lives back on track.
“Our legal system operates with the idea that everyone is treated equally, yet cash bail provides that those who have money are treated better than those who do not.”
In California, more than 63 percent of people in county jails have not been sentenced, but are serving time because they cannot afford to pay bail. California’s median bail is five times greater than that for the rest of the country.
All too often, women bear the financial and emotional hardships associated with money bail. The average family has to pay over $13,000 for fees and fines from having an incarcerated loved one – including the high cost of bail – which sends more than a third of families into debt. Women make up more than 80 percent of family members who pay for court-related costs.
“When my brother was arrested, my mom had to put up our house for his bail,” said Le’Char Tokie, Essie Justice Group member. “Now it’s like we owe them everything, otherwise we lose the house. We are forever in debt to the bail bondsman because of it.
“It’s time to end the money bail system. People like me who have been impacted by the bail system are locking arms with advocates and leaders across the country to dismantle this brutal system that forces people to buy their freedom.”
As part of National Mama’s Bail Out Day, in nearly a dozen cities, local organizations are working with public defenders, impacted communities and faith and spiritual institutions to bail out as many Black mamas as possible the week before Mother’s Day.
“No one – whether they’re a birth mother, an aunt or a teacher – should have to spend Mother’s Day in a cell just because they can’t afford bail,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, one of Bail Out Day’s national partners. “For the first time ever, we’re sending that message through a national, coordinated day of action, awareness and kindness.
“Money bail and the industry that profits from it has long been destroying our communities, so this Mother’s Day Black people across the country are going to reunite our families and demand an end to that system.”
About National Mama’s Bail Out Day
Originally proposed by Southerners on New Ground, the National Mama’s Bail Out Day raises awareness of the human and financial costs of money bail and emphasize its impact on Black mothers and caregivers. Participating cities include Oakland, Los Angeles, St. Petersburg, Montgomery, New Orleans, Memphis, Durham and Atlanta. Visit www.nomoremoneybail.org.
About Essie Justice Group
Essie Justice Group harnesses the collective power of women with incarcerated loved ones to empower women and end mass incarceration’s harm to women. Our award-winning Healing to Advocacy model breaks the isolation and invisibility of women with incarcerated loved ones. Visit www.essiejusticegroup.org.