Bay Area reformers call for end to money bail in ‘Black Mamas Day Bailout’

While a woman was in jail for more than 10 months because she could not afford bail, she lost her grandmother, missed her son’s wedding and learned that her nephew had been killed in Oakland.

“I hit the floor,” said Cheryl Diston as she spoke at the “Black Mamas Day Bailout” press conference Thursday in front of the Rene C. Davidson courthouse in Oakland.

Advocacy groups such as the Essie Justice Group and the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office held Thursday’s event to call for an end to cash bail. The average bail amount is $50,000 in California, five times the average national average, said Public Defender Brendon Woods.

“We are tired of this money bail system that keeps people incarcerated simply because they cannot afford to buy their freedom,” Woods said.

Standing behind him on the courthouse steps were mostly women, wearing shirts with the words “Free Black Mamas” and holding signs that said “End money bail” and “Off the auction block.”

Woods said the reality is more low-income people of color are spending more time in jail because they cannot afford to pay their bail. He said that 46,000 people are incarcerated in California because they cannot afford to pay their bail.

“No one, and I mean no one, should be in jail, especially not our mothers, simply because they are poor,” Woods said.

Several woman shared their stories of having loved ones jailed, or like Diston, who were themselves incarcerated. Diston shared how while she was awaiting trial in jail, she had little communication with her family except through letters since jail phone calls were too costly. That was how she found out that her nephew had been killed in Oakland, or how her own son wrote to her that he was getting married. It wasn’t until after she left jail, that she found out her grandmother had died, she said.

Lateefah Simon, president of the Akonadi Foundation, an advocacy group that focuses on racial equity for youth and young adults of color in Oakland, said a woman who was a victim of domestic violence was arrested herself, and given a $25,000 bail amount. In those days while in jail, she lost her apartment, her job and even her child. It wasn’t democracy, Simon said.

“When women come together themselves to raise money for the freedom of other mothers, we believe that’s democracy. The women standing behind me will single-handedly take down California’s bail bond industry,” Simon said.

Thursday’s event was part of a national bailout effort in the days leading to Mother’s Day to bail out of jail mothers who lack the needed money. Last year, the Essie Justice Group helped bail out three black mothers from jail. Last week, advocates spent 13 hours waiting to get another woman out of Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, they said.

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