I am still thinking about the gross abuses taking place on Rikers Island and in jails across the country. There are so many innocent individuals who are waiting for their day in court who are languishing in our jail system solely because they cannot afford bail. Which begs the question, what is the purpose of bail? If two people commit the same offense and one has mean to pay bail and another does not, why is one person allowed to continue to live freely and possibly be a productive member of society, while the other must live in dangerous conditions while awaiting their day in court?
I have been following the work of the Envision Freedom Fund (EFF) (formerly the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund) for years and they argue that “The only way to end the abuse and violence of incarceration during this humanitarian crisis is to free people now.” Under the leadership of Carl Hamad-Lipscombe, executive director of Envision Freedom Fund, the EFF outlines three clear demands:
First, the New York Legislature must oppose any changes to bail reform that will result in an increase of the number of people eligible for money bail or pretrial detention—and uphold this commitment when the legislative session resumes in January. In the meantime, EFF expects them to speak out in support of decarceration and against fearmongering attempts to justify increased jailing that costs New Yorkers who are immigrants, Black, Latinx, and LGBTQIA their lives.
Second, New York’s elected district attorneys must cease requesting bail and remand on all cases at arraignment. DAs are top law enforcement officers with powerful influence on the criminal legal system and their decisions to keep prosecuting and requesting bail directly fuel the incarceration crisis.
Lastly, New York’s judges must use their discretionary power to grant release requests and stop sending people to Rikers. When the dangers of jailing have never been more clear, the practice of trapping people in jail with unaffordable bail in response to manufactured violent crime narratives from law enforcement and media has never been more reprehensible.
What Envision Freedom makes evident is this fact, “jails have always been—and will continue to be—sites of violence, trauma, and death. Yet, the number of people jailed continues to skyrocket. Every 30 minutes in New York City, someone is jailed, often because they cannot afford their bail.”
We must continue to pressure our elected officials to develop legislation that supports all members of our community. We must let DAs know we are watching their sentencing guidelines and those disproportionately targeted by these antiquated practices. And it is my hope that this issue of bail becomes a key focus of presumed mayor Eric Adams.
If you are interested in donating to and/or learning more about the Envision Freedom Fund, go to www.envisionfreedom.org
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC.