Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, bail funds accelerate jail release in pandemic

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights announced March 27 that it has launched a widespread bail-out campaign, in partnership with bail funds across the country, to help secure the release of people held in pretrial detention. This is an especially urgent humanitarian need as COVID-19 threatens to devastate local jails and surrounding communities.

The non-profit expects the emergency response efforts to bail out more than 200 people in over 10 cities. They are taking action where elected officials have failed to do so to protect those people trapped in jail simply because they cannot afford to pay bail. This is an essential step to curbing the spread of the deadly virus among incarcerated people and jail staff, and ultimately the broader public in these communities.

“Community bail funds are stepping up to create real, tangible change for dozens and dozens of people everyday who are suffering in jails simply because they could not afford to buy their freedom,” said Wade McMullen, senior vice president of programs and legal strategy at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “As the country faces the global pandemic, their work is even more crucial, freeing hundreds more people who can now return home to shelter with their kids and families. We hope their bold action inspires and pressures our public officials to do the same, and once the threat of the virus subsides, we hope it helps us all reexamine the injustice of mass incarceration in this country in new light and with renewed urgency.”

In its efforts to #FreeThemAll, the human rights organization has already partnered with eight community bail funds from the National Bail Fund Network—all of which have been working tirelessly to post bail and save lives: Safety and Freedom Fund at Operation Restoration in New Orleans, YWCA Commu-nity Bail Fund in Baton Rouge, Freedom Fund in Miami, Chicago Community Bond Fund, Northwest Community Bail Fund in Seattle, Minnesota Freedom Fund in Minneapolis, Vegas Freedom Fund, and Just City in Memphis.

While RFK Human Rights’ emergency #MassBailOut efforts have helped draw attention to the need to drastically reduce the population in jails in the face of this health crisis, people’s freedom should not be left up to philanthropy. That do-gooders can buy people's freedom only reveals the injustice of our criminal legal system—and the troubling inaction of our government.

“The coronavirus is shining a gigantic spotlight on the deep-seated injustice at the core of our criminal legal system,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Even before COVID-19, we knew pretrial incarceration posed a threat to us all by dehumanizing those behind bars, destabilizing families and whole communities, and diverting precious resources away from our public health system. But now, more than ever, we cannot stand by while our elected officials allow people to be sentenced to death by coronavirus in our jails simply because people cannot afford to make a monetary payment.”

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that has worked to realize Robert F. Kennedy’s dream of a more just and peaceful world since 1968. In partnership with local activists, the organization advocates for key human rights issues, pursuing strategic litigation at home and around the world. And to ensure change that lasts, it fosters a social-good approach to business and investment and educate millions of students about human rights and social justice.


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