It is Time for Bail Reform in America: How Nonprofits Can Join the Fight for Pretrial Justice
Nearly 2 million people are incarcerated at the federal, state, and local levels across the United States. That’s about the population of Nebraska – a staggering number, isn’t it? But here’s the real shocker: over 400,000 of them cannot afford to pay bail. It is a glaring example of our flawed, two-tiered justice system, where the wealthy and privileged can buy their freedom while the marginalized are left behind. It is a clear violation of the principles of fairness and equality and nonprofit organizations across the country are working tirelessly to push for bail reform and ensure pretrial justice for all.
For more information on mass incarceration click here.
What is Bail?
Bail is a legal mechanism created to ensure that people with pending charges show up in court. Instead, the current bail system, which oftentimes places an exceedingly high price tag on an arrested person’s freedom, criminalizes race and poverty while upending the presumption of innocence. It violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of Equal Protection and Due Process, and it totally annihilates the prohibition against excessive bail.
What Can We Do Now?
It is time to take a stand against the unjust and oppressive bail practices that plague our nation. We cannot sit idly by and allow our Constitution to be trampled upon by a broken system. We have a moral obligation to fight for a pretrial system that is fair, equitable, and humane. We owe it to ourselves, to our fellow citizens, and to future generations to ensure that justice is not just a concept, but a reality for all.
Several states across the country, including California and Texas, are already taking steps toward pretrial justice reform. Some proposals have been shut down, some have been sent back for amendments, and some are still in limbo. Now, more than ever, nonprofits have a unique opportunity to use their platforms to create lasting change.
As part of their advocacy work, nonprofits can play an impactful role in influencing legislation affecting bail reform and can work in coalition with other organizations to increase their advocacy power. By lobbying on their own or joining forces with other organizations, nonprofits can advocate for the passage of laws that are rooted in prioritizing mental health, safety of the community, and access to justice for all. Nonprofits can also lobby against laws that prioritize making money, incarcerating people for minor and nonviolent offenses, and criminalizing poverty. For a more in-depth dive into the lobbying rules for public charities, see Bolder Advocacy’s Being a Player publication.
Several organizations like the Texas Fair Defense Project, Texas Jail Project, Texas Appleseed, Faith in Texas, RAICES, The Bail Project, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and more have already come together to write a letter urging their legislators to take up and pass meaningful bail reform legislation. Your organization can partner up with others around you on the same mission and do the same!
Nonprofits can advocate in many ways, including:
- Engaging in litigation and policy advocacy to challenge cash bail systems
- Providing funding to other groups that are already advocating for bail reform or hosting bail funds
- Educating the public on critical issues like mass incarceration, the importance of pretrial justice, and the racial and economic disparities in the bail system
- Using personal stories to help make unjust bail policies and their impacts real to the public
- Using social media to hold policymakers accountable who oppose your organization’s position
- Using other creative communications to highlight the potential impact of a policy that eliminates cash bail in your community
For example, via its website, a nonprofit can share the story of a young man who has been sitting in a jail cell for eight months after being arrested for a nonviolent offense because he is unable to post bail. Alongside the story, the nonprofit can share a collage of the thousands of incarcerated individuals who have not yet been convicted of a crime but are still detained due to the inability to pay their way out. Hopefully by sharing these stories and humanizing these individuals, lawmakers and communities will unite and organize for significant policy change.
The U.S. Constitution grants us the right to due process and equal protection and prohibits the use of excessive bail. As Americans, we have a responsibility to ensure that those rights are honored and defended.
The cruel reality is that thousands of people, who by law are presumed innocent, are being held in cold, dark, concrete rooms simply because of the color of their skin or the size of their bank account. This is not just a violation of human decency; this is not just the absence of justice or compassion; it is a direct assault on our constitutional rights. That’s why it’s crucial for nonprofit organizations to speak out on behalf of those who have been forgotten and silenced. We must stand up for what is right and fight for a system that values fairness, equality, and humanity.