By Destiny Lopez & Monica Montgomery
In the past few decades, the number of incarcerated women has grown dramatically, from 8,000 in 1970 to nearly 100,000 today. There is growing recognition that mass incarceration is a feminist issue that intersects with multiple systems of oppression. Incarcerated women are disproportionately women of color, overwhelmingly poor and low-income, and survivors of violence and trauma. One system that harms both incarcerated women and women with incarcerated family members is the money bail system.
Currently, over 60 percent of people in jail are not convicted of a crime, meaning many people are in jail simply because they cannot afford money bail. The money bail system disproportionately harms women of color and low-income women, who not only face unique challenges in jail, but also bear the brunt of family responsibilities.
Time spent in jail before their trial is time that women are away from their children and jobs, which can impact entire families. 80 percent of women in jail are mothers, and the majority are the primary caregivers for their children. For women with incarcerated loved ones, they also bear a huge financial burden. A study by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights found that when family members cover costs associated with a loved one’s arrest, 83 percent of those responsible for covering the costs are women. This means that women are most likely to bear the financial responsibility for paying a family member’s money bail, even if they are not incarcerated.
LGBT people face even greater disparities by the money bail system. In one national survey, 73 percent of LGBT people reported having an encounter with law enforcement in the past five years, greatly increasing their chance of getting arrested and ending up in pretrial detention. Trans women risk being placed in men’s jails, where they face the threat of physical and sexual violence, and are oftentimes placed in solitary confinement before their trial.
In response to this growing crisis, women of color — particularly Black women — have been leading the movement to reform the money bail system in California. Essie Justice Group is a nonprofit organization lead by women with incarcerated loved ones that organizes for bail reform among other things. They are a co-sponsor of the California Money Bail Reform Act (SB10) and leaders in the Mamas Day National Bailout, in which they raised money to bail out Black mothers and reunite families on Mother’s Day.
The growing bail reform movement demonstrates that women across the country are challenging a system that harms individual women, families, and entire communities. Celebrate Women’s History Month by supporting the women leading the way on bail reform. To donate to a bail out happening near you, visit nomoremoneybail.org. To learn more about the Bail Reform California campaign, visit bailreformca.org.