Local attorney Erica Perry was nothing short of grateful after CNN analyst Angela Rye dedicated $5,000 of her speaking fee from the “I Am A MAN” commemoration event this past Saturday to the Black Love Bail Out project.
Rye’s move was a helping-hand investment in the effort to restart the Memphis Community Bail Fund spearheaded by Perry’s organization, Official Black Lives Matter.
“People should not be held in jail because they are poor,” Perry said.
The Memphis Community Bail Fund, a part of a collaboration between Just City and the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, aims to help African-American offenders – especially low-level offenders – afford bail.
Here’s how the system works. When a person is arrested, detained and arraigned, a judge sets a bail price, which will allow the accused to walk free – under certain conditions.
“Bail isn’t about risk,” Perry said. “It’s about holding people and making sure people show up to court.”
A person can pay the entire amount immediately, with a chance of getting it back after fulfilling all court requirements.
However, most people can not afford to pay the full amount, with some opting to use their property as collateral and others opting to pay a percentage of the bond amount, either in cash or through a bail bondsman. There are still others who aren’t able to do any of these options so they sit in jail the entire duration of their case.
“What we’ve found is a number of people who are in jail are impoverished and don’t have the money to get out of jail,” Perry said.
She said the jail at 201 Poplar is packed with thousands of people – with hundreds entering each day – and the population is 85 percent black.
“There has been no trial, they have not been convicted of any crime. They’ve merely been accused of a crime, and under the current judicial system, as flawed as it may be, people are innocent until proven guilty,” Perry said.
The goal of the Black Love Bail Out project is to raise $15,000 – the same amount raised during Mama’s Day Bail Out by the same group around Mother’s Day 2017. That effort helped free eight mothers. While the amount currently raised is not known, fundraising has been extended into mid-March.
The criteria to qualify seems simple enough – the crime must be low level with a bail no greater than $5,000 and this can be in the range of a misdemeanor to a Class E felony.
“We haven’t been looking at the crime so much as ‘what do you need to get out of jail,’” Perry said.
“We know that a number of people in jail are vital parts of our community,” Perry said. “They’re parents, they’re people who are in school, they are people who work jobs that are needed.”
While the funds are not yet available to the public, referrals for those eligible will come from attorneys and partnering organizations.
So, what happens after a person is bonded out thanks to the fund?
Perry told The New Tri-State Defender that the organization holds the accused accountable, giving them a “bail buddy,” who checks on them, while providing them with needed services in hopes they don’t violate bail conditions set by the judge.
“If it’s housing that you need, let’s get you hooked up with housing services,” Perry said. “If it’s workforce development, let’s make sure we’re investing in you so you can continue to get a job.”
Perry said liability isn’t as much of an issue as is getting people from behind bars. She also reiterated community bail funds successes, as shown in history.
“During the civil rights movement, we saw black people raise money to get each other out of jail,” Perry said. “During slavery, we saw black people paying for each other’s freedom.”
When speaking about the successes of current bail funds programs across the country, Perry said, “At least 97 percent who they bail out go to court, return to court each time, and don’t have any failures to appear, and don’t have any issues once outside of jail.”
Those who use the funds are encouraged to pay it forward and give back to drive home the point that this project is a community-driven effort.
Perry said she hopes the bail fund initiative reiterates the importance of ending pre-trial detention.
“We need to rethink what we think about holding each other accountable to,” Perry said. “Under the current system, there is no restorative justice.”