Chattanooga Actions in Love, Equality and Benevolence will host a public event to launch the Hamilton County Bail Fund project on Oct. 18. Its goal is to inform local organizations of the possibilities for a bail fund and the success of similar funds around the country, and to lay the groundwork for next steps in the following months.
The Hamilton Community Bail Fund event will take place at First Centenary United Methodist Church in “The Vine” Sanctuary from 6:30-8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 18. The meeting will include support statements from local community leaders, overviews of the national and local pre-trial incarceration problem and the process for bond/bail, as well as a description of the mechanics of successful bail funds.
CALEB officials said nearly seven out of 10 people serving time in the Hamilton County Jail haven’t been tried for any crime. Pre-trial incarceration rates have skyrocketed in the last 20 years, rising well above both state and national averages. This strain on the criminal justice system leads not only to expensive and ineffective costs to the county, but in a chasm of justice between wealthy and poor defendants. Unattainable bonds with no accountability lead to people being jailed for being poor rather than safety their dodging a court appearance, said officials.
Dr. Michelle Deardorff, department Head and Adolph S. Ochs professor of Government at UTC said, “The question of bail is a difficult one for our society—we want to ensure that the accused have a reason to stay in their community and face trial and requiring bail can provide the necessary stake. On the other hand, approximately 443,000 people who are currently detained in local jails have not been convicted of a crime. We know that those who wait in jail for their trial— generally those who are poor—are more likely to be convicted of their crime and more likely to have a sentence that includes incarceration.We need to address our current bail structure if we want to ensure a more just society.”
A bail fund is a nonprofit revolving account used to post bail for qualifying defendants. When the defendant shows up for his or her court date, the money is returned to the fund to be used for the next applicant. Similar funds have been set up in both Shelby and Davidson County. The Nashville Community Bail Fund was established in June 2016 and the fund’s resources have bailed out over 330 people. Of those supported, 97 percent made it to their court date and 25 percent of supported defendants had charges dismissed.
Allen Shropshire, outreach coordinator for Empower Chattanooga, a program of green|spaces, member of CALEB, sees the community bail fund as potentially transformative for people who find themselves incarcerated. He said, “I feel this Bail Fund can help those who aren't able to help themselves in a time of need. Bonding out of jail can be difficult to those who may not have the funds to do so. This effort will take the support of the community and the whole city to make a difference to help others, and I for one love the idea of helping someone who doesn't see a way out of their current situation.”
This event is free and open to the public. RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org. Light refreshments will be served at the event.