Dignity and Power Now (DPN), Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN) and a New Way of Life joined together to bail 40-year-old Michelle Callendar out of Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood last week in time for Mother’s Day. The L.A. based group’s efforts are a part of a nationwide campaign called National Mama’s Bail Out Day and includes organizations like Southerners on New Ground, the Movement for Black Lives, Color of Change and other groups that raised more than $360,000 to bail out black mothers for Mother’s Day. The campaign highlights the impact of pretrial detention on black families and how states like California’s bail system unfairly punishes the poor.
“I’m blessed,” said the mother of six on being released in time for Mother’s Day. “I’m alive and my children are ecstatic. I can’t wait to pay it forward.”
Ms. Callendar, who had been arrested on charges of felony petty theft and had a bail of $20,000, was selected for assistance after being identified by Los Angeles County public defender’s Women’s Reentry Court (WRC). Since 2007, the WRC targets women parolees and probationers who are charged with a new offense in Los Angeles County. In lieu of a state prison sentence, participants are enrolled in an intensive six-month minimum residential program followed by up to 12 months of outpatient treatment.
The full bail amount of $20,000 was paid for Ms. Callendar’s release.
“Many women are in jail for low-level and non-violent offenses—crimes of survival,” explained DPN founder Patrisse Cullors. “Black women make up 44 percent of women in jails, and nearly a third of women in jail nationwide have serious mental-health issues. When Black women can’t bail out of jail here in Los Angeles County, the Department of Children and Family Services oftentimes gets involved which means putting black children into foster homes. When women can’t pay their bail this sets them up to lose their jobs and even be evicted. Add to that, children who are left to be cared for by family members who may be unable to care for them. It’s a very traumatic experience for the entire family.”
According to a report from Human Rights Watch:
Tens of thousands of people arrested for a wide range of crimes spend time locked up in jail because they do not post bail. Nearly every offense in California is bail-eligible, yet many defendants cannot afford to pay. In California, the majority of county jail prisoners have not been sentenced, but are serving time because they are unable to pay for pretrial release.
Those locked up pretrial are overwhelmingly poor, working class, and from racial and ethnic minorities. California’s median bail rate is five times higher than that of the rest of the country. There is a clear correlation between the poverty rate and the unsentenced pretrial detention rate at the county level in California. The state is also plagued by profound racial disparities in pretrial detention rates due to racial disparities in arrest and booking rates. The rate at which black people are booked into California jails is many times higher than for white people—for example, it is nine times higher in San Francisco.
Bail and pretrial detention in California subject arrestees to unfair treatment, arbitrary detention, wealth discrimination, and other violations of their basic rights. People unable to pay bail remain in jail regardless of guilt or innocence. Poor and middle-income people incur debilitating debt to gain the advantages to fighting their cases that pretrial freedom bestows.
“Black women have always been the pillars that hold up our communities,” commented Pete White, executive director and founder of LACAN. “Our pillars are under attack with the incarceration of black women at an all time high. Many are held in jail with bails of exorbitant amounts for low-level, non-violent crimes of survival. We are safer when our mamas are home taking care of our children and our communities.”
The Mother’s Day bailout freed at least 100 women in 20 cities including Atlanta, Houston, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and other cities nationwide. The idea for it came from a January gathering of 25 black-led organizations that wanted to collaborate on bail reform.