Building a Movement: Why Advocates are Fighting Against Cash Bail

imageAlmost half of the inmates in Monroe County jail right now are technically innocent. That’s according to leaders of the state-wide #FREEnewyork campaign.

“Monroe County alone jails over 1,300 people daily, 58% of whom are legally innocent,” said Katie Schaffer, New York Statewide Organizer for the campaign.

However, they’re in jail she says because they couldn’t afford bail and also due to how other aspects of the criminal justice system interact. According to Schaffer, inmates also struggle to get access to speedy trials, a Constitutional right that’s violated due to overloads in the court system and loopholes. And inmates (and their defenders) often don’t know what evidence the prosecutor will use against them up until just days before the trial, due to what experts call unfair discovery laws. Sometimes their defense lawyers have just 24 hours to prepare for a trial after seeing new evidence, which can make proper defense almost impossible.

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#FREEnewyork hopes to change that by demanding accountability for prosecutors who move slowly, requiring evidence be turned over sooner and asking for the complete elimination of cash bail.

“On February 6th, we launched a statewide #FREEnewyork Town Hall tour to build grassroots power and elevate the voices of people directly impacted by mass criminalization throughout the state,”Schaffer.

“What’s powerful about the #FREEnewyork campaign is that we are building a movement of people and communities who have been directly impacted by mass incarceration, partner organizations, and all those who believe in justice,” said Vincent Thompson, Nassau County campaign leader for #FREEnewyork. “No one should be locked in a cage, especially when they’re legally innocent. No one should be left in the dark without access to critical information about their case. No one should sit in jail for months or years awaiting trial.” 

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Thompson also has direct experience. He says when he was 16-years-old, he sat in jail because he couldn’t afford to pay $4,000 bail. He’d been accused of possessing drug he says weren’t his.

“No one else should go through this,” Thompson said. “I believe that we can achieve the real bail, discovery and speedy trial reform needed to transform the system and heal our communities, but I know that the Governor’s proposals are just not good enough, for Nassau or Monroe County. Join us to demand better.” 

Local law enforcement have maintained that these issues are less prevalent here. They say the local court system isn’t as overloaded as New York City’s meaning inmates are likely to be tried much faster; however, advocates say pre-trial detention creates issues within just days of someone being incarcerated. They don’t need to be jailed for months to be negatively impacted. According to mental health and mass incarceration experts,  inmates can lose their job, access to key medicines or therapies if disabled or ill, and emotionally, it can take a toll.

Learn more by attending the free discussion.

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