A Penn student has helped to raise more than $20,000 to post bail for Philadelphia residents who cannot afford it — and he’s hoping to raise even more.
College senior Arjun Malik is one of the founding members of the Philadelphia Bail Fund, which aims to post bail for as many low-income individuals as possible. After two weeks of accepting donations, the fund is nearly halfway to its goal of raising $50,000.
Malik was inspired to create the nonprofit with three young criminal justice reformers in the Philadelphia area after interning at a public defender’s office in Brooklyn the summer after his sophomore year.
"Through [the internship] I was able to see how unjust the money bail system was," Malik said. "We started this bail fund not only to help people in the short term, but also to push for the end of money bail in Philadelphia."
Malik said the existing bail system is unjust because it only allows wealthy individuals who can afford bail to live outside of prison for the duration between arrest and trial. Low-income individuals who cannot afford bail risk losing their jobs and time with their families for committing the same crime.
“You can’t determine people’s freedom based on their wealth,” Malik said.
The fund’s criteria for bail eligibility requires that a potential recipient has clear financial need, demonstrated by the use of a public rather than private defender, and a high likelihood of showing up to their trial after being released. If the recipient attends their trial, the court pays the bail back to the Philadelphia Bail Fund, which the nonprofit organization then reuses to bail out other people.
Criminal justice reform is a salient issue in Philadelphia, which has the highest per capita incarceration rate of the 10 largest cities in the United States. The majority of Philadelphia’s jail population is incarcerated for an average of six months before being allowed a trial.
One of Malik’s partners and Vice President of the fund, Malik Neal, said he has a personal connection with the cause. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Neal has had multiple people in his family, including his father, held on bail.
“[Those who are incarcerated] want to see their families [and] want to be productive members of society," Neal said. "Unfortunately, they just can’t afford it.”
Malik and Neal said they hope Penn students will get more involved in this cause because it directly affects the city they reside in more than anywhere else in the U.S.
“This is their city,” Neal said.