According to the Center for American Progress, three out of five people in U.S. jails have not been convicted of a crime. Paying cash for bail is an option, but if someone being detained can not afford bail, they will have to wait — sometimes for months — until their trial. In that time, they can lose their job, their home or even custody of their children.
Poverty becomes criminalized, and this criminalization is disproportionately felt by communities of color who are already incarcerated at higher rates than white people.
Tory Jane and Peggy Placier are volunteers for the Race Matters, Friends Community Bail Fund in Columbia. Their goal is to expose and address the flaws in the justice system, specifically the cash bail system that puts people behind bars for minor, nonviolent offenses.
What is the bail fund?
The RMF Community Bail Fund works to release defendants from the Boone County Jail who cannot afford their bail and to help those defendants with their trial. Their ultimate goal is to see the cash bail system completely eradicated. RMF only bails out defendants who meet certain criteria, such as being a Boone County resident with a Boone County charge, being accused, not convicted, of a nonviolent crime and having a bail of less than $2,000.
"Just by showing up and bailing people out and showing up to some of these meetings with people from the justice system in our county, we've really created a disruption," Jane says. "They know we're watching, and they know that a big group is behind our bail fund that is calling out the system that's hurting so many people."
What sort of charges are people bailed for?
Jane says the most common charge the bail fund helps with is failing to appear for a court date. Others include trespassing, such as if someone who is homeless is looking for a place to sleep; minor stealing and shoplifting; resisting arrest, which Placier says could be for something as minor as not stopping a vehicle exactly where an officer requests the accused to stop; and driving without a seatbelt on or without insurance or a valid driver’s license.
“You can see so simply with these examples that this bail system is not helping people in any way,” Jane says. “A simple thing is to have a service that then helps people get things renewed or fix their tail lights. Instead, we're taking them to jail and spending their time and money and the taxpayer time and money.”
How has the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement affected the bail fund?
As more become aware about flaws in the justice system, Jane has noticed more donations to the fund and more volunteers, meaning more funds to bail out defendants and more people to start working on other key aspects of the mission, like education. The increase in members means they’ve been able to dedicate an entire committee to ending the cash bail system altogether.
As the news cycle shifts and the current dialogue about race slows down, what will Race Matters, Friends need?
Jane says that while money will always be a need, the fund needs committed, informed volunteers. “Donating money is super helpful, but it doesn't solve a problem,” Jane says. “As white people, especially, we can get into this habit of thinking because we gave an organization money, we saved the day. It's like the white savior complex. If you have the ability to donate money, great, but you follow that up with action.”
Placier believes that education is especially important as people search for evidence-based truth when fighting against racial injustice.
“We want to be an education group, also, to let people know, 'Yeah, we do this bailing out, but what’s wrong with the jail? Why weren’t people released in the pandemic?'” Placier says.
One place to start: learning about the lack of structured assistance once a person is released from jail.
“If you get released from jail, you're dropped off outside of jail without a ride,” Jane says. “If you don't have a home, good luck to you. There are resources in Columbia, but that person is basically in charge of making those connections with those services.”
How can you help?
If you want to get involved, the Race Matters, Friends Community Bail Fund is always taking donations and volunteers. Placier wants more community members to volunteer with a willingness to learn and challenge their assumptions about the justice system. She says that we often assume people are in jail because it is in the public’s best interest to keep them there, or we assume that the jail is humane. But education could prove these assumptions incorrect.
“Action is so important," Jane says, "but it also has to be grounded in a solid education."