By Brandon Gleaton, Program Officer of the Spark Justice Fund

In February 2024, the Georgia legislative body approved a state bill criminalizing charitable bail funds. As similar anti-bail-fund bills have been introduced by state legislatures in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, it is crucial that philanthropy grasp the importance of why charitable bail funds exist and how they contribute to a more equitable criminal justice system.

Cash bail plays a pivotal role in the United States criminal justice system, and grassroots organizations dedicated to providing financial assistance for bail have emerged as crucial pillars of support—particularly for BIPOC, queer, trans, disabled, and migrant folks, who are more likely to be criminalized. In 2022, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a report stating that more than 60% of defendants are detained pretrial because they can’t afford to post bail. Furthermore, nearly half of Americans can’t pay an unexpected $1,000 expense from savings. 

Photo: Marty Pearl/Special to Courier Journal.

Charitable organizations contribute significantly to fostering a more equitable and just society by addressing the inherent flaws within the cash bail system—ensuring that freedom is not reserved for those with greater positional power or resources. Moreover, they offer necessary compassion and empathy, mitigating not only the financial but also the spiritual and emotional impact of the cash bail system on marginalized community members. 

By supporting charitable cash bail organizations, funders help resource and uplift more progressive visions of justice—even as we build for worlds beyond carceral systems. During this critical sociopolitical moment, here are a few reasons that philanthropy should feel called to support charitable cash bail and mutual aid organizations:  

  • Addressing Socioeconomic Disparities: Cash bail unfairly penalizes those who cannot afford to pay, leading to pretrial detention solely based on financial status. Community bail organizations address this disproportionate impact by offering a vital source of mutual aid to individuals pushed to the margins of our power structures. 
  • Rooting in the Presumption of Innocence: Community bail organizations emphasize the principle of “innocent until proven guilty,” believing that pretrial detention should be based on risk factors rather than financial means.
  • Reducing Pretrial Detention: Community bail organizations help reduce pretrial detention rates by offering financial assistance to individuals who would otherwise be held in jail due to their inability to pay bail. This, in turn, helps defendants maintain employment, housing, and family connections while awaiting trial.
  • Promoting Greater Fairness in the Justice System: Even as we recognize—and organize against—our violent and harmful carceral systems, we recognize that community bail organizations contribute to greater fairness and equity in our existing criminal justice system by diminishing the impact of wealth and privilege on the pretrial process. 
  • Cost Savings: Community bail organizations can lead to cost savings for taxpayers. Keeping individuals out of jail reduces the financial burden associated with incarceration, including expenses related to food, housing, and medical care for those awaiting trial.
Chicago Community Bond Fund.

As anti-bill fund bills pop up across the country—and we witness increased criminalization for accessing our freedoms, from protest to reproductive health care— funders dedicated to justice must step up to sustain the essential efforts of grassroots bail funds across the country, including Spark Justice Fund grantee partners: the Tucson Bail Fund, Nashville Bail Fund, Huntsville Bail Fund, and—those safeguarding the rights of Cop City protestors in Georgia: the Atlanta Solidarity Fund. 

By doing so, we vehemently reject any attempts to silence voices of dissent and instead champion the principles of autonomy, freedom, and joy for all.