Activists Fight Bail Abuse, Seek To Raise $40K To Free Jailed Chicagoans

By Stephen Gossett in News on Nov 18, 2016 6:44PM

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It's been a year since local activists set up a special fund to bail people out of jail, and they've raised the money to help 45 people who couldn't afford to post bond themselves. Now, as bail reform picks up support from Chicago-area political leaders, the grassroots Chicago Community Bond Fund is celebrating its first year of success and getting ready for more challenges ahead.

The Bond Fund, which was founded late last year, raised funds to post bond for 45 people who were incarcerated in 2015, and the organization hasn’t lost any bonds in that time, according to co-founder Sharlyn Grace. “Everyone we bonded out would still be in jail,” she told Chicagoist.

While the group continues to advocate for policy and systemic change, “in the meantime, it’s important to actually get people out,” Grace said. The group also has a volunteer network that supports those it helps with court-date reminders and transportation assistance.

Chicago’s bond system essentially allows for the “indefinite detention” of people awaiting trial in Cook County who cannot afford cash bond. Officials with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s office, who recently called for an end to the state’s bail system, projected there are some 200 inmates who can’t afford their $1000 bail. And more than 1000 were detained longer than their actual sentence in 2015.

This graphic helps explain how it works:


The problem only compounds itself, too. “Many people lose their jobs, and consequently lose housing, lose custody of children if don’t have a family member to help. “ Grace said.

“People who are incarcerated pre-trial are more likely to be convicted, more likely to be found guilty by a judge and jury, more likely to take a plea, or receive longer sentences rather than probation,” Grace told Chicagoist.

"Money bail isn’t an evidence-based policy. It's been proven that the overwhelming majority of these people deserve to be released with no unfair conditions," she added.

The Bond Fund on Saturday is set to celebrate its one-year milestone at an anniversary party, at Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ (615 W Wellington Ave.) at 7 p.m., and at the same time re-up its coffers. The party, which features speakers and performers for whom CCBF posted bond, doubles as fundraiser: the organization hopes to replenish revolving fund with $40,000 before the end of the year to continue the fight against one of Cook County’s worst shames.

"The right to liberty while presumed innocent is a basic, unassailable right," Grace said.