Every year before Mother’s Day I pull out The Action Network’s link to its Black Mamas Bail Out fund to donate. I join dozens of other organizations in cities across the nation to bail out as many mothers as possible who may otherwise spend Mother’s Day in jail because they simply could not afford cash bail.
According to The Action Network, every day an average of 700,000 people are condemned to local jails and separated from their families. A large majority of them are still in jail because they cannot afford to pay bail, something that continues to disproportionately hurt Black and Brown families.
I have never spent time in jail as a mother, but I could probably afford various amounts of cash bail if I needed to. It is hard for someone like me to understand the amount of stress that another mother goes through when someone else has to tell her kids she won’t be home for Mother’s Day.
I can only imagine what would happen if my son’s school didn’t have someone to come pick him up all of a sudden, or what my job would say if I couldn’t get in touch with them and all of a sudden I just didn’t come to work. The negative domino effect of what happens when someone is incarcerated impacts their future potential earnings, their family’s economic security, and their child’s well-being.
Many times families lose their housing, their job or their child care, and potentially their children get taken away from them temporarily. This all happens even if they are later found innocent of the crime they may have been charged with. Bails can literally vary between $25 to thousands of dollars.
Sixty percent of Coloradans in jail aren’t even convicted of a crime — they are there because they simply can’t afford bail. Some people spend weeks, months, and, in horrible cases, years in jail, because they can’t afford bail, even if they are innocent.
The majority of the population of women in prison are women of color and low-income women. The Vera Institute of Justice did a report that concluded over 60% of women in jail are women of color (44% were Black, 15% were Latinx, and 5% were from other racial/ethnic backgrounds). The report also showed that most women are in jail for low-level offenses, which include things like loitering or simple drug possession. Not only that but Colorado jail populations have increased nearly 800% since the 1970s because arresting folks has become the way we address homelessness, substance use disorder, and mental health illness.
It should be clear — most women in jail are mothers, and 79% have young children, while approximately 5% are pregnant. Most often they are single mothers. A short stay in jail has the potential to break up their entire family. A study of mothers in Illinois Cook County Jail found that when compared to non-incarcerated mothers with children in the foster care system, those children who entered the foster care system upon their mother’s incarceration were half as likely to reunite with their mother upon her release.
During COVID-19 we saw jail population reduction policies that were directed towards keeping those accused of low-level crimes out of jail while also providing law enforcement officers with wide discretion to arrest and hold people who really did pose a public safety threat. Senate Bill 21-62, in the Colorado Legislature, would be adopting those policies that we saw decrease jail populations by nearly 45%. SB-62 would also increase the use of summons in lieu of arrest, decrease the use of cash bonds, and empower sheriffs to continue to safely manage county jail populations.
Further, SB-62 would protect presumptively innocent people who often are folks who either face systemic racism, struggle with mental health illness, may have a disability, are experiencing homelessness, or battle a substance use disorder.
The Vera Institute also concludes that serious mental illness affects 32% of women in jails (a rate that is more than double that of men in jail), 75% of women in jail have reported having symptoms of a mental health disorder in the past 12 months, and 53% have pretty serious medical conditions.
As a former midwife and a mother, I know experiencing involuntary separation from one’s children can exacerbate mental health illness symptoms and put someone at higher risk of using substances because of the sheer stress of that separation.
This year, donate to Mamas Day Bail Out with the Action Network, and support SB-62 — a common-sense bill that could have an incredibly positive impact on mothers, address systemic racism, and safely manage jail populations in Colorado.