How the Bail Project is Helping Those who Cannot Afford Bail


As human beings, we are prone to making mistakes every once in a while. If you’re an American citizen, chances are your mistakes might lead you to getting arrested for a crime. This is especially true if you’re at risk of homelessness, joblessness, or simply live in a troubled neighborhood, have a troubled past, or are currently in less-than-ideal circumstances. Mistakes happen, and everyone is prone to making mistakes. There is a Latin phrase that says, “Errare Humanum Est,” meaning to er is human, and this is true whether our mistakes lead to a criminal arrest, or simply forgetting to pick up our dry-cleaning.

What Are the Chances of Getting Arrested?

As mentioned earlier, simply being a human being in dire circumstances can lead to a criminal arrest. Making mistakes, such as driving under the influence, accidentally being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or even knowingly committing a crime can all lead to jail time. If you have been arrested before, chances are you’ll be arrested again. In fact, Bureau of Justice statistics showed that eighty-two percent of prisoners arrested during a 9-year period were arrested within the first 3 years! If you suffer from mental illness, traumatic experiences that lead to PTSD, substance abuse, and domestic violence, your chances of being arrested also increase dramatically. In addition, if a person is in need of social services, such as housing or help for an abusive household, jail-time statistics also increase. A study done by the Prison Policy Initiative in 2019 showed that at least 4.9 million people are jailed every year. Of these, 25%, or one in four, are booked into jail more than once during the same year. This cycle of going in and out of jail has a tendency to, unfortunately, repeat itself, leading to individuals constantly coming in and out of jail with no reform.

Solutions for Jail-Time

Studies have shown that those who are repeatedly incarcerated are disproportionately from low-income communities, have little to no education, and are from the African-American communities. Repeated incarcerees are also arrested for non-violent crimes, showing that education, help with economic circumstances, job training, and other initiatives to help those in impoverished communities can greatly reduce the chances of someone becoming a repeat offender and being incarcerated. Unfortunately, incarceration can hinder someone’s life by putting a hold on plans that they might have had for the future. Being in jail can cause someone to drop out of college or school due to missing classes, be fired due to missing work, and even risk homelessness after a period of not being able to pay rent.

How Long does Incarceration Last?

Some people might think that jail-time does not last long enough to have a lasting impact on a person’s life. However, this is highly untrue, as the average jail stay of an incarcerated person in the United States can last from as little as one day for crimes such as public intoxication, to years before a trial. In fact, over 74% of people held in local jails have not been convicted of any crime yet, according to PPI. If you think there aren’t that many people currently incarcerated waiting for trial, you’d be wrong. There are currently almost half a million (470,000) people incarcerated in a jail that have not been convicted! This can range from crimes dealing with immigration, drug possession, and property offenses such as robbery and burglary. Unfortunately, chances are, not everyone in jail is guilty of the crime they have committed, however, they are stuck incarcerated, losing income, schooling, and job prospects due to being unable to afford help with bail.

What is Bail?

When someone is arrested, they are guaranteed the right to an attorney, that is appointed to them if they cannot afford one, and the right to remain silent. Most everyone knows this from the famous “Miranda Rights” that are read to someone when they are arrested, and commonly repeated in movies and television shows. However, what some people might not know is that the Eighth Amendment inherent United States Constitution also provides criminal defendants with the right to reasonable bail and the right to not be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. Unfortunately, not all states recognize that defendants might need help with bail once they are arrested. Some states, such as California, have been working hard for those that need help with bail to initiate reforms that could change the cash-bail system.

A cash-bail system has the ability to let those who are charged with crimes leave the confines of jail and wait at home before their trial starts. Those who need help with bail can reach out to bail bonds agents that can pay for their bail for a fee (usually 10% of the bail amount) to help defendants get the cash they need to post bail. A cash-bail system is one where a defendant pays an amount set by a judge to get out of jail while they await their trial. However, though it sounds convenient, the implications of a cash-bail system have increasingly negative consequences.

Issues with Cash-Bail

Because those that need help with bail are usually lower-income, this means that those that have more money are able to post bail and leave jail, leaving defendants that are impoverished in jail. Those who can afford bail also are able to plea to lesser crimes as a result and are sometimes let off with no jail time at all. In states such as California, bail bond companies are plentiful, as it was a cash-bail system up until 2018. More recently, however, criminal and justice reform have called for the removal of cash-bail systems, as those who benefit most are the rich who don’t need help with bail. In California, Prop 25 would have eliminated the cash-bail system completely for those with misdemeanors, kept it for those with violent crimes such as assault and murder, and used an algorithm for those with crimes in between.

Oppositions to Prop 25

Prop 25 and propositions like it might get rid of a cash-bail system, and they can also lessen the populations and overcrowding inside California’s jail systems. However, not only were bail bond companies against prop 25, but also the ACLU of Southern California and the NAACP, Or National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. This is because Prop 25, and reform laws like it, use an algorithm to determine if those that need help with bail and can’t afford it can be released based on their flight risk. A flight risk is based on whether or not someone will leave jail and not return for their trial, thus avoiding possible jail-time. Though it’s possible someone can flee once released from jail, this is not a guarantee, and an algorithm is thought to not be sufficient enough to determine the outcome of the lives of the defendants in jail that cannot afford bail.

Other Resources for Bail

Besides posting money on your own, or hoping a judge allows you to return home using an algorithm, Bail bonding services are great sources for those that need help with bail to pay their bail and return home while awaiting their trial. Returning home is helpful not just for the person who might face serious jail time, for also for their family and friends. However, not everyone has access to bail bonding services or can pay a bail bondsman with cash upfront. If this is the case, what can they do to return home to their families?

The Bail Project

Due to the staggering amount of people currently incarcerated awaiting trial, being criminalized for not having enough money to pay bail, and languishing away from their families while losing income and jobs, organizations have popped up to aid those that need help with bail. As mentioned earlier, half a million people are in jails at any given point, and chances are some of those are not even guilty of the crime they committed, but can’t afford bail to get out. The Bail Project is one such organization that recognizes this flawed pre-trial system must change and is actively doing something to help those incarcerated.

The Bail Project Mission

The Mission of the Bail Project and other organizations like it is to end the unfair pre-trial system that disproportionately affects marginalized impoverished communities and people of color. Those that need help with bail can sometimes find an affordable bondsman, and in this way can pay bail to leave incarceration. Many times, however, incarcerees do not have the resources to contact a bondsman, much less pay them for their bonds services. The Bail Project works much like bail bonds services, and pays for a person’s bail at no cost to them using donations. Once a person attends the trial and their case is closed, the bond is returned to whoever paid it, be it the person, the bondsman, or the organization such as the Bail Project. Because the bond is paid back, this means the cash used to aid someone who needed to be bonded out of jail can now help someone else, in a cycle of freedom.

Where is the Bail Project Located?

The Bail Project is a nation-wide organization that has currently helped over 14,000 individuals that needed help with bail. They are currently located in Southern California, Washington State, Arizona, Texas, and even on the East Coast in Ohio. These are just some of the states that the Bail Project National Revolving Fund is helping in. Like bail bonding companies that can help someone leave jail to return home regardless of their crimes, the Bail Project recognizes that everyone is human, and everyone deserves to be treated as such and be able to continue living in order to reform and improve themselves. The Bail Project works as a non-profit, and 100% of donations go toward those that need help with bail.

Goals for Bail Project

The Bail Project was created by public defender Robin Steinberg as the Bronx Freedom Fund and began due to Steinberg witnesses just how many people that needed help with bail were not able to afford their freedom and had to suffer sitting in jail cells. Now, The Bronx Freedom Fund has expanded and has a goal of freeing 160,000 people from the confines of jail simply because they cannot afford bail. Even an amount as little as $500 can mean the difference between freedom and confinement, and the Bail Project recognizes this. Because bail money is returned at the end of a case, the funds from the Bail Project can be used 1 to 3 times every year for different defendants. Now, using the help of bail disruptors who were also incarcerated themselves, the Bail Project seeks to help each and every single person awaiting bail for crimes they have not been proven of committing before jail affects their life.

Why is it Important?

Besides being unjust, the pre-trial bail system can lead to a life of trauma for the half-million people currently awaiting trial and unable to afford bail. Suicides, sexual assaults, and trauma all occur within the first few weeks and months of arriving in jail, leading to a lifetime of trauma that could have been prevented if one could afford bail. According to the bail project, 96% of those in the bail project returned to court, and only 2% received any sort of jail time. In addition, being able to afford bail reduces the likelihood of having a permanent criminal record. Those who cannot afford bail are often forced to plead guilty to crimes they might not even have committed simply to be let free. If one could afford bail, the Bail Project showed almost 50% of cases were dismissed, whereas, without bail, 90% of people in jail plead guilty! The staggering numbers are evidence that help with bail is one of the most essential parts of ending the oppressive pre-trial system, saving American Taxpayers almost $14 billion annually, and helping the lives of thousands affected by the jail system.

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