This Mother’s Day, remember the women who can’t be with their children: Support Black Mama’s Bail Out Day

This year, remember the women who can’t celebrate Mother’s Day with their children because of the exploitation of black women in the criminal justice system. Help the work being done to make sure that women forced to remain in jail can be home with their children for Mother’s Day. This Mother’s Day will mark the third annual Black Mama’s Bail Out Campaign, a grassroots community-based movement focused on dismantling the cash bail requirement, “With cash or money bail, individuals awaiting trial, plea bargain or a conclusion to their case must remain in jail unless they (or a relative, bail bond agent, etc.) can pay for their release.” 

Advocates nationwide will be coordinating to help free incarcerated Black mothers and caregivers in time for Mother’s Day. The bailouts are scheduled to start from May 6-12 into two dozen jurisdictions, including Cleveland, Memphis, Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

The movement was launched May 2017 with a campaign to post bail for Black mothers who would otherwise be separated from their children on Mother’s Day, the campaign helping to free 100 women and sparking year-round movements. Other fundraising events center around Father’s Day, Juneteenth and Pride. The campaign will continue to highlight local organizing efforts as activists, “call on legislators, judges and district attorneys to abolish the cash bail system.” Such cash bail systems punish people with continued incarceration for living in poverty. 

Nearly half a million people who have not been convicted of a crime are imprisoned on any given day because they can’t afford to pay bonds or bails, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. This system disproportionately affects the poor and communities of color including Black, Latinx and Native American women. Almost 70% of women in jail who can’t afford bail are mothers of children under the age of 16. 

National Bail Out Collective has also worked to bring to the forefront the issues of mass incarceration as it affects women. Marbre Stahley-Butts, founding member of the movement and executive director for Law for Black Lives, has argued that the discussion also needs to focus on women’s growing rates in prison. “We know that right now, women are the fastest growing prison population. There’s a real need to talk about how these systems impact women,’ said Stahly-Butts, who believes such conversations should be inclusive of queer and trans women. Describing mothers and caregivers largely as ‘the backbone of our communities,’ she told Essence, ‘When one of these women is taken away, it’s their children, partners, and the entire community that suffers.” Even if individuals are later cleared of charges, current bail systems can be detrimental to these families; they lose jobs, housing, and child custody as they are forced to sit behind bars. 

The movement and campaign work to end the racist and classist mechanisms that keep marginalized communities in jails without ever being convicted of crimes. Since its launch the National Bail Out Collective has helped secure the freedom of more than 300 individuals across the country, and $2 million have been raised by donors to fund bail and criminal justice reform work. This work also includes providing opportunities for previously incarcerated women. 

“National Bail Out is a Black-led and Black-centered collective of abolitionist organizers, lawyers and activists building a community-based movement to support our folks and end systems of pretrial detention and ultimately mass incarceration. We are people who have been impacted by cages—either by being in them ourselves or witnessing our families and loved ones be encaged. We are queer, young, elder, and immigrant.” 

You can still donate to help bring Black mothers home here.

(GIF Credit: National Bail Out)

Oklahoma: Time to shut down debtors’ prisons and jails

Since 2010, sheriffs across Oklahoma have used bail collection as a means to wage war on the poor and to enrich themselves. That helps explain why Oklahoma is the Number One incarcerator of women in the United States, disproportionately Black and Native American,  and Number Two incarcerator of men. Last November, Ira Lee Wilkins, an indigent Tulsa resident, sued to stop the fine and cost collection system. At that time, Wilkins had two local attorneys. On February 1, 2018, an amended complaint was filed. Ira Lee Wilkins has been joined by Carly Graff, Randy Frazier, David Smith, Kendallia Killman, Linda Meachum, and Christopher Choate. Two national criminal justice law firms joined two attorneys. Together these women and men are saying NO! to a system that converts the most vulnerable into walking ATMs. In so doing, they join those in Texas challenging fine collection systems, and those in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Georgia who have successfully challenged the cycle. The time to shut down debtors’ prisons and jails is long past.

While the stories of the complainants are heartrending, the real story here are the plaintiffs, in particular the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association and Aberdeen Enterprizes II, Inc. In 1991, the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association was formed as a private entity, and was almost immediately drenched in scandals involving embezzlement. Then, the Association’s world changed. In 2003, it was allowed to have a role in misdemeanor fine collections. In 2010, that role was expanded to include felonies and traffic tickets. At the end of 2009, the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association had $40,686 in the bank. At the end of 2016, that number was $2.8 million.

Aberdeen Enterprizes was founded in 2006 “by a disbarred attorney after he was released from federal prison for bankruptcy fraud.” According to the suit, “Aberdeen Enterprizes II, Inc. (“Aberdeen, Inc.”) is a for-profit Oklahoma corporation registered to do business in Oklahoma. Aberdeen, Inc. contracted with Defendant Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association to collect court debts owed in court cases arising in 54 counties throughout Oklahoma. The Agreement provides that Aberdeen, Inc. receives a percentage of the money that it collects. Aberdeen, Inc.’s cut of the money that it collects constitutes Aberdeen, Inc.’s sole revenue source.” Aberdeen’s cut of the money is the only money Aberdeen has.

The sheriff’s private association grows rich. The company doing the dirty work depends on intimidation and extortion to survive and thrive. The jails and prisons are choking with overpopulation, and everyone wonders how this happened. Oklahoma is open for business.

Kendallia Killman is 48 years old, indigent, and the caretaker of her intellectually disabled adult son. They live on monthly disability payments of $543. In 2009, Kendallia Killman was fined for two misdemeanors. She couldn’t pay the fees and fines, and tried to negotiate an arrangement. In 2015, her file was turned over to Aberdeen, who told her that she had to pay a lump sum of $1000. She called Aberdeen and offered to pay $25 a month. Aberdeen hung up on her. This happened more than once. Now there’s a failure to pay warrant, and Kendallia Killman lives in constant fear of being arrested: “When these police departments sent this to Aberdeen, they took out the humanity part of it. … They took out having to see people and seeing the hurt and seeing the pain”.

Carly Graff, 40 years old, mother of two, has a single traffic ticket. She can’t pay the fees and fines. Half the time she can’t afford to pay for food or electricity. She didn’t pay the fees and fines, and a warrant, and more fees and fines, were issued. Aberdeen now has her file: “Ms. Graff now lives in constant fear of arrest and does not leave her home unless necessary to care for her children because she is so afraid of being taken to jail for nonpayment.”

Linda Meachum, 58 years old, disabled by domestic violence, living on $244 a month, knows the same fear. Arrested for a misdemeanor, Linda Meachum spent a month in jail and was ordered to pay $200 fine and court fees. She set up a plan to pay $40 a month. Then she lost her job. Then her file went to Aberdeen, who insisted on at least $75 a month. She couldn’t pay. A warrant was issued, and Linda Meachum went back to jail. Now she owes $800, and still can’t pay: “She has no money to pay Aberdeen, Inc. and fears that she will be arrested for nonpayment of court debt.”

In Oklahoma, big money is made extracting impossible value from the poorest of the poor through an ever expanding ever intensifying system of constant fear and terror. That’s criminal justice. It’s time to shut the whole system down.

(Infographic Credit 1: The Oklahoman) (Infographic Credit 2: Scott Pham / Reveal)

Jane Doe, aka Jenny, and the hellhole that is Harris County Jail (Part One)

Texas built a special hell for women, the Harris County Jail, in Houston, Texas. The story of “Jane Doe”, aka “Jenny”, attest to that, but first some general context. The United States boasts 3,000 counties. Most haven’t executed anyone in the last 40 years. Harris County Jail is the outlier. Between 1977 and 2015, twenty counties executed 10 or ore people. Of the twenty, 14 killed between 10 and 19 people; four executed between 20 and 49; one executed 55 people, and then there’s Harris County Jail. Since 1976, Harris County executed 125 people: “If Harris County, TX, were a state, it would be second only to the rest of Texas in terms of executions.” Now that the use of capital punishment has begun diminish, Harris County is leading the way in life-without-parole sentences. According to a recent report, in 2017, Harris County sentenced 21 people to life imprisonment without parole. The next three counties combined totaled 13.  Harris County is a U.S. chapter in the global labor of necropower: “Necropower … account[s] for the various ways in which … new and unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life conferring upon them the status of living dead … Under conditions of necropower, the lines between resistance and suicide, sacrifice and redemption, martyrdom and freedom are blurred.” Welcome to Harris County criminal justice.

Not satisfied to kill and contain for life far and away more people than any other jurisdiction, Harris County has targeted children and the poor. In the rest of Texas and across the United States, juvenile detention numbers are dropping, but not in Harris County, Texas. According to reports this week, the Harris County Juvenile Justice Center, which has been overcrowded for years, is now severely, dangerously overcrowded. Youth crime is down, and yet the detained juvenile population is skyrocketing. Why? Between 2010 and 2017, the average number of detained children charged with minor offenses increased by 64 percent. In 2017, children charged with minor offenses were locked up for close to three weeks, on average. That’s twice as long as the wait in 2010. From 2010 to 2017, the number of “low risk” African-American children held in detention rose by 75 percent. This spike has occurred in a mere seven years, and in a state in which 17-year-olds are sent to adult courts and jail.

Meanwhile, Harris County Jail is equally overcrowded and toxic, and one of the reasons is the cash bail system in Harris County. According to recent reports, Harris County systematically denies poor and indigent plaintiffs access to personal bonds or any other forms of assistance that are supposedly available. To the contrary, judges routinely raise bail precipitously. Consider what happened to Shamira Brown. Shamira Brown, single mother of two, resident of Houston, thought that, during Harvey, her neighbor had stolen her daughter’s iPad. A fight ensued. Shamira Brown was released on an unsecured bond and told to show up in court in a few days. The courthouse had been flooded and ruined in the hurricane. Shamira Brown repeatedly called the hotline for information. No one answered. On September 8, the day of her court appearance, Shamira Brown dutifully took three buses to get to the courthouse. The courthouse was closed. She called the hotline. No one answered. Now, there’s a warrant out for Shamira Brown’s arrest, for failure to appear in court. This is a common story in Harris County, and, since Harvey, the numbers have only grown exponentially. Those who need pretrial monitoring get nothing and then get a warrant served. As Shamira Brown noted, “I didn’t get anything in the mail, no lawyer papers. They just never told me where to go. Y’all wasn’t even doing your part, but you’re quick to put out a warrant for someone?”

According to the most recent report, 78% of Harris County Jail detainees are awaiting trial.

Last week, Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis put a name and face to the situation, “Sandra Bland was arrested and kept in jail because she didn’t have $500.” Sandra Bland died, or was killed, July 13, 2015, in the Waller County Jail, not far from the Harris County Jail. Harris County is currently being sued for its “assembly line justice for poor people.” More like sewage line injustice for poor people, people of color, children, women, people living with mental disabilities. This is the context for Jane Doe’s and Jenny’s experiences in the hellhole that is Harris County Jail.

 

(Photo Credit: Houston Chronicle / Eric Gay / STF)