Thursday was National Black Mama's Bail Out Day, a time for community groups around the country to raise money to get black women in county jails out on bail just in time for Mother's Day. This year, unlike in 2017, Dallas got in on the project; a team of women's rights, criminal justice reform and community groups banded together to bail women out of Lew Sterrett Justice Center downtown.
“Black mothers should be with their families on Mother’s Day, not in jail waiting for a trial simply because they don’t have the means to buy their freedom,” Tarsha Jackson, director of the Texas Organizing Project's Right2Justice program, said Thursday. “We are taking a stand against a money bail system that tears families apart and punishes our loved ones for being poor. Justice shouldn’t be available only to those who can afford it.”
Jackson and volunteers from Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, Texas Equal Access Fund, Texas Freedom Network and The Afiya Center raised enough cash to secure the release of six women, including a mother of four who'd spent more than a month in prison on a $500 bond stemming from a criminal trespassing charge.
As the women left the jail, the groups behind the project gave them care packages and information geared toward helping the women connect with the services they need before trial.
Nan Kirkpatrick, the executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund, said her group, which pays for abortions for women who otherwise can't afford one, participated because access to money shouldn't affect a woman's ability to make the best decisions for her and her family.
“As the local abortion fund, we’re participating in National Black Mama’s Bail Out Day in Dallas because we know what it means to have economic circumstance stand in the way of justice and believe that all mothers deserve to parent in security,” Kirkpatrick said. “We know that black mothers are disproportionately oppressed by cash bail, and the effects of being stuck in jail with no way out can be devastating for them and their families.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas filed a lawsuit against Dallas County in January, alleging that the county unconstitutionally punishes poor people because they don't have access to the cash they need to get of jail before trial.
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In February, the Dallas County Commissioners Court listened to presentations from a bail reform expert who proposed that the county use a risk assessment, rather than ability to raise enough cash for bail, to determine whether someone should remain jailed before trial.
"The jail population is one of the leading drivers of mass incarceration in this country," Sandra Guerra Thompson, the director of the University of Houston's Criminal Justice Institute, told the court. "That's why [bail reform] has become such a big civil rights issue. In Texas, the pretrial detainee population makes up 75 percent of all jail inhabitants."
Money bail skews the justice system toward the well-off, Guerra Thompson said, rather than protecting the community before a defendant goes to trial.
"A money-based system is going to hold the wrong people in jail and let the wrong people out," she said.