As worldwide protests continue to fill the streets of major cities over the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes, bail funds across the nation have seen a huge influx in donations to support people arrested for protesting.
Bail funds are organizations that post the required bail for people who are unable to afford it. In Philadelphia, 10% of the set bail must be paid for someone to be released from custody. There are two bail funds in the city — the Philadelphia Bail Fund and the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund — which work in conjunction with each other.
The Philadelphia Bail Fund was co-founded by 2018 College graduate Arjun Malik, who said the organization has raised more money in the last few weeks than in the past three years combined. Malik said the bail fund has more than enough funds to post bail for protesters in the short term, and is therefore currently urging people to redirect their support to other local organizations such as Black Lives Matter Philly, Youth Art Self-Empowerment Project, and Pennsylvania Prison Society.
According to a June 7 update, the Philadelphia Bail Fund, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organization that provides relief to people facing incarceration and promotes reform of city bail practices, has received $2.4 million in recent days.
The organization has helped rescue over 160 people from Philadelphia jails in the past month, and continues to receive many referrals, as stated on its website. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic's heightened risk to incarcerated people, the bail fund is also publishing detailed weekly reports on Philadelphia bails.
Malik said the Philadelphia Bail Fund hopes to entirely end the use of cash bail in the city, which has already been achieved in New Jersey and Washington, D.C. In 2018, Philadelphia eliminated the use of cash bail for several low-level offenders.
The cash bail system is used to ensure that defendants appear at their court dates after being released from custody. Those who cannot afford to pay the necessary funds are kept in pre-trial detention, which is shown to have negative effects on the outcome of a defendant's case.
Philadelphia Community Bail Fund lead organizer Candace McKinley said they have also seen an outburst of donations following Floyd’s death. McKinley said she saw an influx of $1.5 million over a span of four days.
Bail funds are “a very practical way of challenging the prison industrial complex,” McKinley said. The 'prison industrial complex," refers to the overlap between the prison system and for-profit industries that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment to solve economic, social, and political problems.
“It's part of a protest movement, just posting bail for people, scrutinizing the system, and showing people just how messed up it is and how it discriminates against people on the basis of their poverty,” Malik said.
Paul Heaton, a senior fellow at Penn Law and the academic director of the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice, said that while more people are donating to bail funds now in comparison to before the recent protests, the movement to end cash bail already had “fairly substantial momentum.”
The movement to end cash bail aims to stop individuals with less money from being trapped in jail for long periods of time as they await trial.
“Over the last few years, bail funds have been cropping up all over the place,” Malik said. “People are starting to recognize and pay attention to our criminal legal system and all the ways that it harms our communities, especially communities of color.”
Cash bail most often hurts poor people of color — a UCLA report from 2017 found that from 2012 to 2016, Latinx people paid $92.1 million in bail, Black people paid $40.7 million, and white people paid $37.9 million. Women are more likely than men to contract with a bail bond agent on behalf of those in custody.
Heaton said the United States needs to end cash bail because of how it favors the wealthy.
“It really seems a bit unfair to have some people in jail just because they don't have as much money as someone who has done the same stuff but who does pay bail,” Heaton said.
If someone facing incarceration is unable to post bail, Heaton said they can lose their job or housing during the time they are held in pre-trial detention.
Rising Wharton sophomores Teddy Weng and Anuva Shandilya both donated to bail funds in their hometowns in Chicago and Cincinnati, respectively, and said they recognized how flawed the criminal justice system is.
“I would be fine with ending the cash bail. I think the whole bail system just rewards people who are wealthy, and that's pretty much it. I don't see any reason to keep it,” Weng said. “It just accelerates the inequities of our criminal justice system.”
Similarly, Shandilya said she believes cash bail disproportionately favors wealthy and white individuals.
“I have seen statistics where Black and brown people have been given disproportionately high bails for sometimes the same crime or lesser crimes than their white counterparts,” she said.
Despite not having donated to bail funds before the protests began, Shandilya said she will continue to support bail reform measures in the future.
“I think it’s important to remember that reform, while it's, I would almost argue, popular right now, is a long and continual process and battle,” she said.
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