The presumption of innocence comes with a hefty price tag. The Bail Project aims to change that
This post was written and reported by freelance contributor Dawn R. Wolfe through our Daily Kos freelance program.
When he was arrested in Detroit on charges of property damage on Aug. 5, Winston Lee Quiney’s working-class family was able to offer him a choice: they could either combine their resources to pay 10 percent of his $25,000 cash bond, or they could put the same money toward paying for an attorney.
Unlike many of the 451,000 people spending time behind bars because they can’t afford bail, though, Quiney was saved from a lengthy pre-trial stay in the Wayne County jail by an “angel”: bail disruptor Rasha Almulaiki of the Bail Project, a national effort which started operating in Detroit this year.
In Wayne County, according to Almulaiki, more than 60 percent of the people in the county jail aren’t there because they’ve been convicted of a crime, “but simply because they can’t pay their bail—sometimes as little as $300.” Nationwide, that figure is closer to 70 percent. According to a 2017 report by the Prison Policy Initiative, pretrial detention costs local communities a collective total of more than $13 billion a year.
In the United States, “innocent until proven guilty” comes with a hefty price tag—one that every taxpayer, whether charged with a crime or not, is paying for. The Bail Project, which was started 10 years ago in the Bronx, is working to change that.
During the next five years, the project aims to expand to 40 sites and bail out more than 160,000 people by 2022. The Detroit office, which is hosted by the Detroit Justice Center, is one of eight initial new sites in areas including St. Louis, Louisville, San Diego, and Compton.
In addition to a $16 million revolving bail fund that the organization uses to get people out of pre-trial detention, the organization is so far well over halfway to raising its goal of $50 million to set up, staff, and provide training for its satellite locations. According to Bail Project director of communications Camilo Ramirez, the funds are coming from foundations and private individuals.
Unlike the 15,000 for-profit bail bonds companies around the U.S., many of which are backed by multi-billion-dollar insurance companies, the Bail Project helps its clients for free. Bailing people out is a major part of the organization’s work, but it’s also just the first step.
According to Ramirez, the Bail Project is working a “two-pronged” strategy. The first prong, he said, is to “address a humanitarian crisis that we’re witnessing in real time.” The second is to eventually eliminate cash bail and replace it with a pretrial process that addresses the racial and class disparities driving America’s criminal justice system.