Rosalyn “Bird” Holmes was released Wednesday afternoon on a $60,000 bond after spending 43 days in pre-trial, pre-indictment detention in a women’s prison, miles from her hometown of Memphis.
Just a few days after turning 16, Holmes was sent to the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning, Tenn. Holmes and another 16-year old girl from Memphis were being housed in a wing of the prison under Tennessee’s “safekeeping” law.
If local officials conclude that their jail is not suitable for housing a person charged with a crime, Tennessee law gives prosecutors and jail officials the right to declare them a “safekeeper.” According to the Tennessean, a joint investigation from the Marshall Project and USA TODAY NETWORK–Tennessee found more than 320 people in Tennessee were declared safekeepers from January 2011 through 2017.
In a statement released Wednesday, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights President Kerry Kennedy said, “What happened to Rosalyn Holmes is far from ‘safekeeping’”
With the support of the Fund II Foundation, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights posted Holmes’ $60,000 bond and secured her release.
Collierville police say Holmes was a passenger in a car driven by one of two teenage boys charged with pointing a gun at a 28-year-old man and then demanding that he go to an ATM and his home. Holmes faces kidnapping and robbery accusations in connection with the incident.
“Even though Rosalyn has not been convicted of a crime, the state sent a 16-year-old child over 50 miles from her family and segregated her in an adult prison. In no way do those actions serve the cause of justice,” Kennedy said.
In January, Josh Spickler, attorney and executive director of Just City, assembled a team of advocates to challenge the use of the “safekeeping” law. The team includes lawyers from the University of Memphis School of Law Children’s Defense Clinic and the ACLU of Tennessee, who worked to help with legal coverage and to advocate for state legislation to correct the practice of transferring children to prisons for pretrial detention.
“The idea that we are doing this to teenage girls in 2018 is astonishing,” Spickler said. “Children, especially children who are charged with crimes, need very specific and very specialized treatment because of their unique needs and vulnerability. Putting them in adult prisons miles from home is almost the worst thing we could do as a community.”
The team also includes advocates from The Official Black Lives Matter Memphis chapter and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. The ongoing goals include ending the money bail system, which is estimated to keep an average of 700,000 people confined to local jails around the country.
According to Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, people held in pretrial detention are four times more likely to be sentenced to prison, and their sentences three times longer than those able to secure pretrial release.
Shahidah Jones of The Official Black Lives Matter Memphis chapter said, “We want this to spur the conversation as to how we house juveniles. …This isn’t an anomaly.”
Referring to Holmes, Jones said, “You’re talking about a 16-year-old child. You have to think about the mental detriment from being held in solitary confinement, and how being held pre-trial could have on the remainder of her life.”
The Official Black Lives Matter Memphis chapter was frustrated about the amount of Holmes bail, believing it to be excessive for the alleged crime and the level of threat that she posed, Jones said.
“Bail can lead to people pleading guilty, getting longer sentences.”