For Mother’s Day 2017, families will pause to thank the moms in their lives. Maybe they’ll make her breakfast in bed, deliver a homemade card or simply let her escape the daily grind for a while.
But every year, many women don’t even see their children on Mother’s Day because they are in jail and can’t afford bail under a system that is harder and harsher on poor families and people of color.
In a country where you are presumed innocent, these mothers are punished before they even go to trial.
That is beginning to change. This year, the Mama’s Bail Out Day campaign is bailing out more than 30 mothers across the country, and it already has raised more than $250,000.
Why? Mothers are hit particularly hard under the U.S. criminal justice system, where 700,000 people are stuck in jail because they can’t raise enough money for bail, the campaign said.
Today, 8 of 10 women behind bars are mothers, half languishing in a jail cell and not convicted of a crime, with Black and transgender mothers impacted more than most, the campaign added.
Far from a temporary setback, a few days in jail can turn a mother’s life upside down, threatening her job, housing and even custody of her children, Mama’s Bail Out Day said.
“Most of the women in jail are accused of minor drug and ‘quality of life’ offenses…,” according to the campaign. “In addition to the over $9 billion wasted to incarcerate people who have been convicted of no crime, pre-trial incarceration has catastrophic impacts on families and communities.”
Mama’s Bail Out Day is actually more than 12 groups, including Black Lives Matter, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Southerners on New Ground, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and Texas Organizing Project (TOP), working together.
During the week of May 8, TOP bailed out a mother of two, who couldn’t pay a $1,500 bond, from the Harris County Jail.
“She lost a week of her life because she is poor,” said Mary Moreno, a spokeswoman for TOP, which has raised $27,000 to bail out mothers.
In Harris County, the project is working with Sheriff Ed Gonzalez to identify mothers who could benefit from Mama’s Bail Out Day – women with relatively low bonds who have spent a few days in jail, according to Moreno.
The Mother’s Day bail out is only one step in a broader effort to reform the nation’s bail laws, systems that criminalize poverty and corrupt criminal justice, according to the Oakland-based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
In California, Ella Baker is backing legislation designed to make it easier to assess the risk of releasing someone from jail before trial and enhance services that help ensure people make it back to court, according to a summary of the proposal.
During the debate, there has been push back by representatives of some law enforcement agencies, and the bail industry, asking for a slower approach to the issue, the San Jose Mercury News reported.
But, the California legislation reflects a national drive for similar reforms that happened or are emerging in Kentucky, New Jersey and Santa Clara County, California.
“In Kentucky, for example, about 70 percent of people awaiting the resolution of their cases are released; 90 percent of those make all their future court appearances and 92 percent are not re-arrested while they wait for their cases to go forward,” the summary said.
“Poverty should not be a sentence, and money should not determine someone’s freedom,” the Black Alliance for Just Immigration said.