by Derek Gilna
In the eyes of many, the American justice system is in need of reform on several levels, especially in the area of bail. Pretrial detainees account for 70% of the incarcerated, and many are behind bars simply because they lack money for bail. The number of pretrial detainees is one of the primary reasons the U.S. has the dubious distinction of the highest incarceration rate in the world.
The American Bar Association notes that the precipitous 30% decline in criminal jury trials from 1962 to 2002 is directly related to the intense pressure on the indigent defendant, who, although supposedly innocent until proven guilty, often pleads guilty to a lesser charge to gain his freedom in order to preserve jobs, home, and family. It’s little wonder that the number of confined individuals has increased by more than 500% during that same time period, which is more than twice as high as the increase in cases filed.
Now, two organizations—National Bail Out (“NBO”) and Appolition—are doing their part to level the criminal justice playing field for the indigent. NBO’s mission is to provide jail funds to the indigent to pay their bail. The organization has done so for approximately 200 individuals. Appolition is an app that allows users to help address the scourge of mass incarceration. Users of the app—the Appolitionists—link their debit or credit cards to the service. Each transaction is rounded up to the nearest dollar, and those rounded up funds that are at least 50 cents are sent to NBO, which distributes the funds to 14 local organizations across the nation. Appolitionists also have the option of making one-time or recurring fixed donations through the service’s website.
Co-founder Kortney Ziegler of Appolition credits NBO with providing the inspiration for its service with its Mother’s Day 2017 event, “Mama’s Bail Out Day.” Ziegler also notes that one obstacle in the way of its progress has been lack of public understanding of the challenges faced by poor individuals ensnared in the criminal justice system. He has carried out webinars like “Bail 101” to help educate the public about the challenges the bail system poses to the poor.
NBO credits Appolition with providing almost $25,000 to support NBO’s activities, which include not only bail support, but assistance with short-term housing, transportation, and health care. According to Arissa Hall, NBO coordinator, “Providing folks with transportation money or reminder calls helps them return to court.... Often times when setting bail, court systems will do an assessment to determine if someone poses a risk to their community…. We believe that a person should have a needs assessment, determining what they need to live full lives.” But until that is done, she said, NBO will continue to help those individuals obtain the resources to win their release.
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