Freedom from Bail Debt

“WE ARE FREE! OUR BAIL HAS BEEN PAID!” Tracey shared on Facebook after Ella Baker Center staff members went with her to the bail bonds agency to pay off all of her bail debt. Thanks to your generosity and compassion, Tracey is finally free from her bail debt and can be liberated from this injustice.

Money bail punishes people for being poor -- we won a victory for one family. But the fight is just beginning. We will reform the system so that no other family faces this injustice.

“Thank you All that stood with us! That cried with us! That gave support! That fundraised for and with us!” - Tracey

 

I first met Tracey on a hot day last July at the Wiley W. Manual Courthouse in Oakland CA. As one of the Ella Baker Center’s advocates, I was there supporting family members and observing how bail was being administered. Tracey was in deep distress as she waited for her 20-year-old daughter Tai’s name to be called. Tai’s bail was set at $100,000. And Tracey was struggling to find any way to pay it.

Tracey sat alone in the courthouse. She had to find a way to come up with the 10% fee for the bail bondsman—$10,000—to free her daughter. Tracey had already paid $8,000 for a lawyer for Tai, and coming up with an additional $10,000 was going to cost her everything. I remember her telling me: “It is either bail or my water bill. But I have to bail her out, she’s my baby.” This heart-wrenching choice is one that Black mothers are forced to make every day under the current money bail system.

By that fall, Tracey had already had her water shut-off twice because she could not afford it. She owed the bail bondsman almost $300 each month, and with the interest rates, the monthly payments she was able to make didn’t even make a dent.

But Tracey was persistent. A longtime freedom fighter and social justice teacher, Tracey is fierce and determined, and she wouldn’t let anything stop her from supporting her family. I stayed in touch with Tracey, and she became a member of the Ella Baker Center, coming to a member meeting and then joining us in Sacramento to lobby for bail reform, so that no one would have to go through what her family had gone through.

Now that Tracey is free from her bail debt, she is continuing on in the fight. Next week, she will join our members in Sacramento to call on legislators to pass bills to reform the money bail system and eliminate sentencing enhancements for prior drug convictions.

Will you take a stand with Tracey? Help us end the injustices of money bail because no one deserves to cycle through poverty before they are even given their chance in court.