#ChangeLawyers This nonprofit run by lawyers is changing lives by paying bail
Last year, veteran public defender Robin Steinberg launched The Bail Project, a nationwide charitable fund for pretrial defendants who can't afford to pay bail.
On any given day in the U.S. more than 600,000 people are locked up in local jails. Many are there simply because they can't afford to pay bail.
"Tonight, a half million mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers are going to sleep in jail because they can’t go to an ATM and take out $500 or $1,000 to buy their freedom," said Steinberg. "But somebody who does have that ability gets to go home and kiss their kids good night? That's just not fair, that's just not just, and it's unconscionable."
The Bail Project has a simple premise. So-called "bail disruptors" pay bail for defendants who can't afford it, then help them make their court dates.
So far, disruptors have bailed out 1,500 people across the country, according to the nonprofit. The Bail Project doesn't yet have statistics to measure success, but in the New York program from which it grew, more than nine out of 10 bail recipients have made all their court dates, and more than half have had their cases dismissed. Over the next five years, Steinberg hopes to expand The Bail Project to 40 sites and bail out 100,000 more people.
They include women like Rikki Lee Motes, one of the women NBC News met inside the Tulsa lock-up.
Driving a borrowed car, Motes had been pulled over and arrested for charges that included possession of methamphetamine and driving with a revoked license. Crying as the cuffs clicked into place, she worried about losing her job.
"Is there any way I can get out tonight?" she asked the deputy.
"Sure," the deputy said. "You can bond out.”
But Motes, who earned minimum wage and had piles of unpaid court fines and fees, knew she was as likely to make bail as to win the lottery. She resigned herself to the idea that she'd be fighting her case from behind bars.
To Steinberg, it's a familiar refrain. In her 30-odd years as a public defender, she said, she watched the consequences of bail play out in ways that rendered the concept of "innocent until proven guilty" meaningless.
The idea of a bail fund occurred to her more than a decade ago, over beer and Chinese food with her colleague, now husband, David Feige.
"I was in arraignments one night and was arguing a case," said Feige, who was working in the Bronx. "Judge set $250 bail. I was beside myself. I thought about posting the bail, just personally digging into my pocket, which you're not allowed to do under the ethical rules. I said, 'This is bulls---.' You know what? We should start a charity.’"
According to the Bronx Freedom Fund, after 10 years and roughly 2,000 bailouts, 96 percent of its clients made each and every court appearance. Over half the cases wound up being dismissed. It was clear, Feige said, that paying bail gave low-income defendants a fighting chance.
"Bail is probably the single biggest determinant of a criminal justice outcome," Feige said. "Once you're out, you're not going to take a plea that just puts you back in jail. You're going to fight the case, by and large.”
Research shows that defendants incarcerated before trial havemuch less favorable outcomes, with higher rates of guilty pleas and convictions. They are also more likely to be sentenced to jail, for longer periods of time.
As she prepared to leave the Tulsa County Jail, Rikki Lee Motes made herself a promise.
"I'm looking around at all these women and I said, 'Man, I don't want this life,'" Motes said. "'I refuse to be an Oklahoma statistic.'"
After more than a week in jail, The Bail Project had paid her $1,500 bond. To her, it felt like a miracle, in a place where miracles are in short supply. But her time in jail had snapped her already tenuous link to a steady paycheck. When she showed up to work after her release, she found out she no longer had a job.
"These people took a chance on me," she said. "Why would I ever do anything to disappoint them?”
Motes pleaded guilty to two traffic offenses and drug possession. She managed to avoid jail time with a deferred sentence and, she said, the court is working with her to pay off more than $1,100 in fines and fees.
Story by NBC News >
This Week on Twitter We need more Black lawyers
More of This California legislature passes major bills to hold police accountable
Endorsing a dramatic departure from decades of secrecy surrounding policing in the state, California lawmakers have moved to undo some of the nation’s strictest rules keeping law enforcement records confidential, particularly involving officer killings of civilians.
Legislators approved two landmark measures late Friday, one that would give the public access to internal investigations of police shootings statewide, and another that would allow the release of body camera footage of those incidents.
The bills “open up some transparency to help rebuild that trust between law enforcement and communities,” said Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), author of the open-records bill. “Public safety requires the cooperation and trust of a community.”
Supporters of the SB 1421 hailed the decision as a move toward increased trust between law enforcement and the public. The backdrop of Black Lives Matter and other movements pushing for changes in the criminal justice system helped move the transparency measure forward, they said.
“For years, black, brown, indigenous, and poor communities have been subjected to systemic harassment, violence and brutality by police but left little recourse to pursue justice,” Melina Abdullah, a professor of Pan-African Studies at Cal State L.A. and a member of the Black Lives Matter movement, said in a statement. “SB 1421 will finally shine a bright light on whether and how police departments are holding officers accountable for these abuses of power.”
AB 748 makes a forceful move toward open access to body cameras, said Adam Marshall, an attorney tracking state legislation with Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
“The bill represents one of the strongest commitments to transparency for body cameras among the legislation that’s been passed in the country,” Marshall said
Story by LA Times >
Even More of This New Zealand provides a model for juvenile justice reform
Skyrocketing incarceration rates, over-representation of ethnic minorities, a fixation on punishment rather than rehabilitation—this isn't describing the modern criminal justice system in the United States. It's New Zealand's in the 1980s.
After watching its criminal justice system devour six times more indigenous Maori youth than their white counterparts, New Zealand passed the Children's and Young People's Well-Being Act in 1989. The legislation, which limited police power to arrest youth and implemented restorative justice practices over formal court proceedings, was the first of its kind. The act illustrates a powerful alternative to the criminal justice system in the U.S., which continues to ravage black and brown communities while doing little to prevent crime or rehabilitate offenders.
Lawyer Melissa Goemann says implementing restorative justice practices allowed New Zealand to end the wholesale incarceration of children—and the U.S. should follow suit. She spoke with Pacific Standard:
What is restorative justice and how has New Zealand implemented it?
Restorative justice views crime not as a violation against the state, but as a violation of relationships. It acknowledges that there was a rupture in the seams of society, creating a sense of betrayal and anger, and it seeks to mend back together the interwoven threads of safety and justice through inclusive, collaborative processes.
New Zealand integrated restorative justice practices into the youth justice process through the Family Group Conference. The FGC brings together the youth and their family with their lawyer, social worker, and others who can offer support, as well as the person harmed, if they choose to attend.
What are the advantages of restorative justice over traditional, retributive justice?
Restorative justice seeks to repair the breach between the young person and the harmed party and community. If done well, it often results in the harmed party feeling more satisfied because their experience was addressed directly and the young person is placed in a better position to move forward positively because the issues that contributed to their offense are addressed and they have learned to take responsibility for their actions.
The retributive system has many negatives. Youth who are incarcerated are at risk of physical and sexual victimization, suicide, disruptions to their mental and physical development and education, and negative impacts on employment. Even youth who are not incarcerated can suffer the collateral consequences of a juvenile delinquency record, such as challenges re-enrolling in school, graduating, and obtaining employment. Incarceration is also very expensive. It is much more cost-effective to provide community-based alternatives.
How can restorative justice practices be implemented more widely in the U.S.?
Restorative justice has slowly gained attention in the juvenile justice field as an effective solution to reduce recidivism, prevent children from entering the justice system, reduce cost for taxpayers, and improve conflict resolution. In the U.S., although there is strong support for restorative justice in some local jurisdictions, it remains a marginally supported justice practice at the level of state policy. Restorative justice should be integrated as a core underlying process in youth justice systems and not an add-on, as it is often used, for more minor cases only.
Story by Pacific Standard >
Second Chances Tech company Slack launches apprenticeship program for formerly incarcerated people
On the fifth floor of slack’s new building, overlooking the fancy Salesforce Park, a standing-room-only crowd of employees had gathered. Almost universally young and San Francisco casual, but not universally white and male, they were there to see John Legend, and to celebrate Next Chapter, a new partnership the chat start-up has entered into with The Last Mile, a technology-training program for incarcerated people, and $800,000 from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.
Next Chapter will train and place three “returning citizens” inside Slack as quality-engineering apprentices—and build a process to help them acculturate to one of the most successful start-ups of the past decade, with help from a small support team led by a formerly incarcerated man named Kenyatta Leal.
More than 20 percent of the whole world’s prison population is sitting in U.S. jails and prisons, even though Americans make up only 5 percent of the world’s population. The formerly incarcerated are five times more likely to be unemployed than the general population. Things are especially bad for black men, who experience significantly higher unemployment than white men leaving prison.
“We’ve come up with thousands of ways that a plastic bottle or an aluminum can can have a new life,” Leal explained to the crowd. “We need to have that same kind of mind set when people return to the community.”
Offstage, the heavy lifting for next chapter has been done by The Last Mile (TLM). Founded as an entrepreneurship class at San Quentin, TLM has grown into a large prison-education program, spread out over eight facilities. The requirements for entry into the program are stringent—no participant can have a disciplinary infraction for 18 months before they apply—and any issue can get them booted. To date, 50 TLM graduates have reentered society and not a single one has returned to prison. (In California, about 65 percent of people who leave prison return within three years.)
Aly Tamboura went through the TLM program, start to finish. He loved it. “I’m a math nerd. I took Calculus 1, 2, and 3 for fun and the guys made fun of me,” he told me. “I’m going to try this computer coding.”
He said that coding gave him a sense of purpose. Not only was he working on something he found intellectually satisfying, he was learning “a marketable skill” that could pay him enough to actually support a family and live in the Bay Area.
Leal might be the most excited. He’s come a long way personally and he’s ready to scale his success. “We’re partnered with Slack, but if we can get five more companies, we can get 10. If we get 10, we’re going to get 100. If we get 100, we can get 500,” he said. “I can see it snowballing.”
Some powerful forces have to bend the arc of history, though. Tech companies did not make the problems of mass incarceration, but they benefit tremendously from the economic system that created the tremendous inequality that has, in part, driven it. It might be fitting if part of the way tech repaid its debt to society was by hiring people who’d already done so themselves.
Story by the Atlantic >
Podcast of the Week The new progressive prosecutor
Over the past few years there’s been a growing movement, led by groups like Color of Change and National People’s Action, whose goal is to elect progressive prosecutors. From Philly to Chicago, Houston to Orlando, St. Louis to Denver, we’ve seen prosecutors concerned with justice and civil liberties beat those focused only on convictions and sentences. But what does it really mean to be a progressive prosecutor? And what comes next for the movement?
On this episode, Josie and Clint look at how this movement got started and talk to Rashad Robinson, the Executive Director of Color of Change.
Free Event Equity Summit at Zynga
Featuring Contra Costa DA Diana Becton.
Equity Summit 2018 is an intimate discussion that brings together current and former DAs, criminal justice reformers, and community activists to discuss ways to promote racial equity in the criminal justice system.
Tuesday, September 11. RSVP here >
Free for Students Scholarships for Justice presented by California ChangeLawyers
Featuring former Attorney General Eric Holder and Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund founding member Nina Shaw.
October 4 at 5:00 PM. RSVP here >
Free Event Law School Admission Conference hosted by For People of Color
This free event will provide attendees with a comprehensive overview of the law school application process. Panels consisting of law students and lawyers will share their pathways to law school and the legal profession and answer questions.
Sunday, September 12. RSVP here >
Free Event Funders' Learning Lab for Detained & Removal Defense
What happens after ICE picks up an immigrant? How will the case differ if she is released or remains in detention throughout her removal process? Join this two-part learning lab to gain a better understanding of the immigrant’s journey through apprehension, processing, and detention during the removal process. Hosted by GCIR & Google.
Wednesday, September 12. RSVP here >
Fellowship Opportunity Butler Koshland Fellowships seeking an immigrant rights fellow
The Fellow will do important work to protect the rights of immigrant students, especially those eligible for the DACA program, while also learning about what it takes to lead a nonprofit organization.
Learn more and Apply >