The Black Lives Matter movement is working to have an impact on the lives of black women in dozens of jails across the country this week by providing them with their freedom, just in time for Mother’s Day.
The women have not been convicted of crimes, but they remain in jail because they have been unable to pay the bond or fines that would allow them to go home to their families as they await trial.
The Nation reports that organizers with Southerners on New Ground, the Movement for Black Lives, Color of Change and other groups have raised more than $250,000 for what they’re calling National Mama’s Bail Out Day.
Many of the women are in jail for low-level offenses like loitering or small-scale drug possession. The groups, which are continuing to raise funds, will pay for their release.
As The Nation notes, black women make up 44 percent of women in jails, and nearly a third of women in jail nationwide have serious mental-health issues.
The Mother’s Day bailout will free at least 30 women in Atlanta, Houston, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and other cities nationwide. The idea for it came from a January gathering of 25 black-led organizations that wanted to collaborate on bail reform.
From The Nation:
Mary Hooks, co-director of the Atlanta-based LGBTQ organizing project SONG, offered an idea she’d been developing with other activists who had noticed the disparate impact that money bail and jail-related fines and fees has on LGBTQ communities. Hooks’ campaign idea—what she describes as “using our collective resources to buy each others’ freedom”—was welcomed by the larger group. And because event organizers emphasize the ways race, class, and gender identity all play a role in criminalization, they have an expansive understanding of who qualifies as a mother. “When we talk about black mamas, we know that mothering happens in a variety of ways,” Hooks said. “Whether it’s the mothers in the clubs who teach the young kids how to vogue, or the church mothers who took care of me.” Women who are birth mothers and chosen mothers are eligible to be bailed out.
Arissa Hall, a national Mama’s Bail Out Day organizer and project manager at the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, told The Nation that Mother’s Day, with its idealized notions of family and womanhood, is the right moment to force an examination of women in jails.
“All mothers are not celebrated,” Hall said, adding that this is especially true of women who struggle with poverty, addiction and mental-health issues—in other words, the women who fill our jails.
“Black moms especially have not been granted that title of motherhood,” Hall continued, going on to describe how slavery shredded kinship bonds. Black women, she noted, have historically taken on caretaker roles that have put them in charge of other people’s children and away from their own.
Hall has been researching the way bail works in the cities and counties where the organizers plan to help women out.
“It’s a myth that folks don’t come back to court” when released on their own recognizance, she told The Nation, explaining that upward of 95 percent of people helped by bail funds return to court for their scheduled appearances. “People will come back to court regardless of whether or not bail is set.”
In Hall’s experience, what it takes to get people to their court dates is phone-call reminders and bus or train fare.
Bail corrupts the concept of justice in that the people who can’t pay to get out of jail will eventually resolve their cases through a plea, Hall said. “We don’t force our court system to do what it’s actually supposed to do, which is give people a fair trial.”
Read more at The Nation.