Justice

How Black Lives Matter Helped These Women For Mother's Day

May 12th 2017

By:
Willie Burnley Jr.

The impact of racism and institutional violence within the United States’ criminal justice system is felt deeply around country, especially on days meant to celebrate family. In light of this and the fact that eight in ten incarcerated women are mothers, Black Lives Matter and Color for Change have partnered with over a dozen other organizations to bail out black mothers awaiting trial as a part of their "National Mama’s Bail Out Day" campaign, an effort to help unite a small portion of the millions of families that are separated every year by the carceral state.

 

 

“Our corrupt criminal justice system forces innocent people who pose no threat to purchase their freedom,” organizer Ruth Jeannoel said in a video announcing the campaign.

In 2014, more than 200,000 women were incarcerated, which represents a staggering 700 percent increase in incarceration since 1980, according to a fact sheet by The Sentencing Project. The report also noted that, including those who were on parole or probation, there were “1.2 million women under the supervision of the criminal justice system.” 

And, due to discrimination by the police and court system, leading to disparate sentencing, black women were more than twice as likely to be incarcerated as white women. This is in spite of the fact that the rate of imprisonment for black women has declined by nearly half since 2000 and the rate of imprisonment for white women rising by more than half since then, according to The Sentencing Project's report. 

Organizations in 18 cities took part in the fundraising efforts and by Friday, the Memphis Black Lives Matter chapter had already raised bail for 13 women. The group plans to hold a Sunday Brunch for all the women who were held.

During the campaign, organizers sat through court hearings, identified the women who would be eligible to be released on bail, and partnered with community organizations to offer mental and physical health services for those women that needed them. As Memphis Black Lives Matter organizer Shay Jones told ATTN:, “One bad encounter with the police could ruin your life.”

Jones linked the campaign's focus on race and incarceration to economic factors and pointed out that many of the women had bails that would have required them to have hundreds of dollars on hand if they wanted to be released before their trial. This is an often insurmountable feat in a city where more than a quarter of the black community lives in poverty.

“$800 could make somebody homeless, it could be their rent, their car note,” Jones said.

 

The campaign is also shedding light on the larger issue of bail costs.  

According to the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, a non-profit organization which pays the bail for those that cannot afford it in New York, "“Over 60 percent of people in jail in the United States are being detained while they await trial,” (ATTN: has reached out to Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, which is a participant in the National Bail Out campaign, and will update this story when they respond.)

The organization’s website also notes that people spend an average of 15 days in jail because they can’t afford bail. As a result, the nonprofit calculated, individuals charged with a misdemeanor are nine times as likely to plead guilty in order to be released from jail in exchanged for a tarnished criminal record than individuals that can afford their bail.

The national campaign's website states that “the end of money bail is one small, but critical step, to our collective liberation” and urges the passage of the No Money Bail Act, which was introduced into the House of Representatives in 2016 by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA). The act would “discourage the use of payment of money as a condition of pretrial release in criminal cases, and for other purposes” by withholding federal funds to jurisdictions that continue its use.