In the last 10 years, a small charity called the Bronx Freedom Fund has donated bail money to thousands of poor New Yorkers charged with crimes, freeing them from jail and helping them avoid the dispiriting delays of backlogged local courts as they wait to go on trial, says the New York Times.
Now, after a decade in operation, the founder of the Freedom Fund is set to announce a new and unprecedented effort: the nation’s first fund designed to post bail for more than 150,000 indigent defendants being jailed across the country. Known as the Bail Project, the undertaking is scheduled to open offices in St. Louis and Tulsa, Okla., in January and spread to more than three dozen cities in the next five years, according to Robin Steinberg, the former director of the free legal clinic Bronx Defenders, who ran the fund in the Bronx and will now oversee the national initiative.
Steinberg said the Bail Project has raised nearly $30 million over the past two years from donors like music industry executive Jason Flom and billionaire business magnate Richard Branson.“We are hoping to end the immediate human suffering of people sitting in cells because they are too poor to pay their bail,” Steinberg said. Critics say that in effect bail is used punitively against the indigent, who often lose jobs, apartments and even children because they cannot afford to pay bail. Steinberg said almost 450,000 poor defendants are locked in jails nationwide on any given night without having been convicted of a crime.
The Bail Project plans to deploy two experts called “bail disrupters” to each of the cities it will work in to partner with local public defenders and criminal justice reform advocates to find potential clients. There are currently community funds helping to bail out the indigent in at least 10 cities, including Seattle, Boston and Baltimore.