MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) - In observation of Black History Month, local organizations are launching The Memphis Community Bail Fund to free African-Americans from jail who can't afford to pay bail.
The purpose of the project, organized by Just City, Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, and the Official Black Lives Matter Memphis Chapter, is to give those accused of non-violent crimes a chance to thrive in the community while going through the justice system.
"On any given day, there are several hundred people in that jail who are there only because they can't afford bail,” says Josh Spickler with Just City.
Spickler says the initiative is about using community resources wisely. He says 87% of the Shelby County jail population is African-Americans, and those accused of a minor offense have to stay locked up because they're poor.
"This is not us wanting to clear out the jail. This is not wanting to get everyone declared innocent,” says Spickler.
"The overwhelming majority of these people are non-violent offenders who are spending an inordinate amount of time in jail for a crime; losing their jobs, and disrupting their families, all because of a financial barrier. Nothing to do with their innocence or guilt at all,” says Brad Walker, the Executive Director of the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center.
Organizers of Memphis Community Bail Fund are hoping to raise money to bail out people accused of non-violent crimes with a bond below $5,000.
"People have been accused of a crime, but it doesn't necessarily mean they're guilty,” says Erica Perry with Black Lives Matter & a Memphis Community Bail Fund organizer. "Not necessarily thinking about what offense that they've been accused of because anybody can be accused of a crime."
"Guilt or innocence doesn't matter in terms of bail. The only thing that matters is someone's appearance at court,” says Spickler. "This is about keeping jobs. Keeping cars. It's about keeping apartments while you answer to charges against you."
The fund is not yet available to the public. Referrals will come from attorneys and research done by partnering organizations.
A community meeting will be held next Wednesday at 6pm at CoWork Memphis at 902 South Cooper.
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