Effort underway to help mothers who can’t afford bail

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Michigan Liberation is sharing stories of seven formerly incarcerated women through the Black Mama Bail Out Fund. Kim is of the 80% of incarcerated women in Michigan who is a mother, according to Michigan Liberation. (Cydni Elledge/Michigan Liberation photo)

Some mothers just want to be home for Mother’s Day.

With help from the Black Mamas Bail Out Fund, that may happen.

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In a rapid response to the coronavirus pandemic and an extension of their ongoing work, Michigan Liberation is working to release Black mothers and caretakers from jail. Too often, defendants can’t post bail at their first hearing and end up in jail because they are poor and about 80% of incarcerated women are mothers, according to the statewide organization. Michigan Liberation partnered with the nationally known Advancement Project to share stories of formerly incarcerated moms to highlight the injustices of the criminal system while uplifting their shared experiences.

Tamika said when she returned home she had no support or resources. She’s applied for several apartments and has struggled to find a steady job. (Cydni Elledge/Michigan Liberation photo)

The Advancement Project is a nonprofit grounded in racial justice issues, and Michigan Liberation is a statewide organization working to advance racial, gender, economic and environmental justice in Michigan.

Ashley Carter from the Advancement Project and Angela Davenport from Michigan Liberation created the project while listening to stories of Detroit women and the decisions they were forced to make: such as choosing whether to call home to check on their children or paying their bills. They’re using the hashtag #FreeBlackWomxn to share their collectively unique experiences through photos and narratives on social media.

Michigan Liberation began the Bail Out Fund in 2019 and, in 2020, partnered with The Advancement Project to publish the report “Michigan Liberation Freedom Plans.” According to the report, it costs the State of Michigan about $100 a day to incarcerate one person. Michigan Liberation bailed out 15 mamas in 2019 whose bails ranged from $150 to $1,000. The women said the lower bail amounts that have kept Black women incarcerated is a sign of deeper systemic issues that perpetuate poverty.

Bail money is just the start. Most of the mothers that were released need additional resources and support that Carter says are often made more available to men than women.

For Carter and Davenport the issues are deeper than the costs to the State. She was shocked to hear of the many women who were incarcerated after driving with an expired license or other vehicle-related infractions.

“We have to think about who are the people that are affected and what are the ripple effects,” Carter said.

Irene is one of the seven women whose story is highlighted in Michigan’s Black Mama Bail Out Fund and the #FreeBlackWomxn narrative campaign by Michigan Liberation. (Cydni Elledge/Michigan Liberation photo)

Davenport said Detroiters can participate in the bail-out fund to support immediate change, but their long-term goals are for systemic change. Davenport said she hopes that by sharing women’s stories they will remind society that the same women who have been incarcerated are the same women who make lunch for their children every day, who take them to school, and kiss them goodnight.

“What is a criminal?” she said.  “You look at someone differently when you hear that they’ve been arrested, or that they’ve been incarcerated. So it’s really lifting up these stigmas because they hurt, they don’t help anyone.”

To contribute to the Bail Out Fund, go to The Advancement Project’s website

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