Over the Mother’s Day weekend, volunteers around the country posted bond for women who were incarcerated, to allow them to be home with their children as they await trial.
The local effort was spearheaded by the Denver Justice Project and Black Lives Matter 5280. Around the metro area volunteers were at courthouses in Denver, Arapahoe, Douglas, Adams and Jefferson Counties posting bond for women in need. “We’re going to post the bonds until the money runs out,” says Elisabeth Epps, of the Denver Justice Project.
In all, the campaign raised more than $20,000 to fund the local Black Mama’s Bail Out, part of the nationwide campaign to bail/bond Black Women out of jail in time for Mother’s Day, Sun. May 13, 2018.
Elisabeth Epps says that nationwide 700,000 people are incarcerated daily because they can’t post bond.
At least 8 of 10 women incarcerated are mothers and at least 2/3 of those women are mothers to minor children.
Epps says that ascertaining the racial make up of the female population behind bars in Colorado is difficult, since there is a wide variation in what each jail within the state will reveal about their inmate demographics, but she says simply by sitting in a court-house on any given day you can see the racial makeup of those being sent to jail. “You can see for yourself how over-represented black and brown women are.”
Epps says the cash bond system needs to be eliminated entirely in Colorado and nationally. “The bail and bond system is unjust and incredibly exploitative and unfair, but how it actually works in practice varies wildly from court to court, city to city and jurisdiction to jurisdiction.” The one consistency, she argues is that a great many people become incarcerated, simply because they are unable to come up cash for bail. To be clear, Epps stresses, when someone has a $500 bond, typically what she actually needs is closer to $50-$60 (10% to the bondsman and a fee). Therefore, someone is being detained because they cannot raise less than $100.
“It should be a no-brainer,” says Epps, “that if someone can be out on, for example, a $500 bond, then they shouldn’t be in.”
More to the point, she says, we can be fairly certain of a couple of things specific to these cases: First, if a woman is placed on a bond of $500, it is fair to say she is not a threat to the community – otherwise her bond would be much higher, or withheld entirely. Second, we can surmise just how impoverished and disconnected she is to be unable to raise $50-$60 to stay out of jail.
The affect of this high rate of incarceration for women of color reaches beyond the family into the community at large. The day a mother doesn’t come home to her children can potentially mean them being pulled from school, taken from their home or put into foster care. As for longer-term affect, says Epps, decades of data show how detrimental the mother-child separation is to the long-term wellbeing of the child. The ripple affect into adulthood can cause long-term instability issues with relationships, education and work. Of course, it is also a direct economic hit to a family. If the woman is able to post the bond, that money is lost for rent, food for the family, child-care. On the other hand, if she is unable to post bond, she will most certainly lose her job and will no longer be able to provide support for her family.
Beneficiaries of the Mother’s Day Bailout effort were found through a few means. First, via the online inmate locater, used by all the county justice centers. Second, public defenders have been engaged to refer clients they knew to be in need. Finally, women will be found via word of mouth. Epps encourages anyone who has a woman in his or her life, with a bond of $1000 or less, who hasn’t been able to be posted, to contact blackbailout.org.
Epps stresses that while Mother’s Day is a great day to highlight this cause, there is always a need. Any donations made to blackbailout.org will be used for bail only: nothing else. Going forward, this will be a standing fund and an ongoing effort, so please continue to give. Also, since systemic change is the main objective, she encourages individuals to watch for any future ballot initiatives that would address the cash bail system in the state. And finally, Epps implores, be conscious about calling the police on poor and people of color. Interactions with the legal system directly correlates with the disproportionate number of minorities in jail on minor offenses – Mother’s Day, and all year round.