End Money Bail

Last week San Francisco's Board of Supervisors held a hearing on money bail. I was asked to testify about the harm of money bail. I recommend a swift and complete end to money bail. In it's place, I recommend community release based on a needs assessment that provides folks with the resources (preferably wraparound services) they need to thrive. Additionally, I recommend courts be replaced entirely by Restorative Justice processes and jails and prisons be closed altogether. Jails and prisons only address the symptoms of systemic harms and marginalization with violence. This vision is another essay entirely, so I'll just leave you with my testimony before I get carried away:


When my father was arrested, the bail was set at $500,000. My family was in a state of deep shock and distress. We didn’t have half a million dollars. We didn’t even have the 10% needed to pay to a bail bondsman. We barely had 1% of the bail amount. We had no assets, owned no property, were disenfranchised to the bone. Without having the 10% to pay to the bail bonds company, my father stayed in jail. In jail, my father missed out on so much—including my college graduation and his father's funeral.

Money bail is harmful no matter what—you hurt when you pay, and everyone hurts when you can’t.

It’s not just our family who has been hurt by this unjust practice. At least 46,000 Californians are affected by the harmful practice of money bail. According to 2015 Board of State and Community Corrections data, 46,000 people were kept in California jails, not because they had been convicted of a crime, but simply because they could not afford the bail for their release.

That’s 46,000 empty seats at graduations, at the sides of hospital beds of elderly loved ones, and at the dinner tables at every holiday family gathering. This past December, there was one empty seat at my sister’s baby shower. It was my father’s.

At the baby shower we passed a phone around the celebration gathering—to my mother, my grandmother, my sister, to each of my little cousins—to hear my father speak to us with a knot in his throat because he was missing out on becoming a grandfather for the first time.

Money bail is like a ransom note to women and families. When we can’t pay it, we are all punished. Freedom should not come with a price tag.

In California, the median California bail is $50,000. That’s five times higher than the national average. San Francisco’s bail average is one of the highest in the state.

Women bear the greatest burden of this failed system. Today, 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 2 Black women, has an incarcerated loved one in prison. Women make up more than 80% of family members primarily responsible for covering court-related costs. As Black women we already make pennies on the dollar for grueling work because of pervasive wage inequality. This is much of the reason as to why I am not joined by thousands of women in this room this morning. Know that I stand here today representing at least eighty women (nieces to great grandmothers) in my family who have had to navigate the money bail system through bail bondsmen, giving hundreds of thousands of dollars over time. This is money that we will never see again. We paid this money in order to have our loved ones get a fighting chance to show up to their trial in a suit and not an orange jumper and shackles. To meet with an attorney and not have to guess when the next time they see their public defender will be (if at all, before court).

I urge you to do everything in your power to end money bail. We have a long legacy of conflating data visibility and transparency with accountability in this city, which makes no difference in the day to day lives of people suffering from issues like the harms of money bail.

I urge you to also start upstream, tying police accountability for their proven bias (via the DOJ Report) with the representation of Black residents (as 3-5% of this cities population) as over half of the entire jail population. I urge you to tie the prevalence of desperate plea deals in San Francisco to the inhumane conditions (proven via numerous official city reports) of people living in 850 Bryant for over a year waiting to see trial (like my father did) just because their families can't afford bail.

Once and for all, it’s time to end the money bail system. People like me who have been impacted by the bail system are locking arms with advocates and leaders across the country to pressure states to dismantle the brutal money bail system that forces people to buy their freedom. I urge you to link arms with us too.

Money bail actually began in San Francisco. This is the perfect place and the perfect time to end it.