A national effort is launching that aims to help low-income defendants get out of jail by bailing them out as their criminal cases progress through the courts. The Bail Project grew out of a successful 10-year campaign in the Bronx to pay bail for needy cases, led by attorney Robin Steinberg of the Bronx Defenders, a legal assistance nonprofit. She says the decade of data from that effort showed that 95% of the people who were bailed out using donated money returned to court for every appearance, and that when people could get out of jail, the majority were ultimately not convicted of a crime. The project will expand in January to Tulsa, Okla., and St. Louis. It will grow to include a total of 40 different cities, using a $16 million revolving fund, and aims to bail out 160,000 over the next five years, reports the AP.
Nonprofit workers stationed in the cities will work with defense attorneys and community groups to interview people who've been jailed following accusations of a crime. In New York, judges set bail in roughly 45,000 cases annually; only about 12% of defendants can pay in time to be released from court. The average fee is $1,000. Nearly half end up in jail for about a week because they can't scrape together the money in the window of time between their arraignment and when they're sent to jail. Jail reform advocates say bail disproportionately affects poor minorities, who can't cobble together the money and who are disproportionately arrested in criminal cases. Even a night in jail can cause people to lose a job or custody of their children. "It is really intended to try to make sure that no one is incarcerated for their poverty and their race and that is what is happening in this country," Steinberg says.