How nonprofits are getting people out of metro Detroit jails during COVID-19 pandemic
Jailed in Wayne County during the peak of the coronavirus crisis, Ivory Cross worried about contracting COVID-19.
The 27-year-old from Inkster also feared for the health of her loved ones at 真人百家家乐官网网站home: her two young sons, her mother and her father, who has lung cancer. Several months passed with almost no communication with her family because she couldn’t afford phone calls from jail, she said.
And Cross didn't have the money to pay her $2,000 bail to be released.
That was until she found the help of a nonprofit advocating to transform the criminal justice system and protect vulnerable populations during the pandemic. Michigan Liberation paid Cross’ bail, allowing her to reunite with her family one week before Mother’s Day.
"We didn’t think I was going to make it 真人百家家乐官网网站home for Mother’s Day. We didn’t know when I would be 真人百家家乐官网网站home. It was a very happy moment," said Cross, who was jailed on a charge of unarmed robbery.
She is one of roughly 55 people in metro Detroit who have been bailed out of jail during the coronavirus crisis by Michigan Liberation and The Bail Project, a national nonprofit with a local office within the Detroit Justice Center.
Bailouts are fueled by donations. The assistance is often paired with coordinated community support, such as food, housing, transportation and mental health services.
Beyond the immediate release of low-income people from jail before trial, a goal that grew urgent with the arrival of COVID-19, advocates are pushing to dismantle the cash bail system. They say the system disproportionately harms communities of color and results in impoverished people who have not been convicted of a crime languishing behind bars while they await trial.
"Cash bail is particularly cruel to people who are poor, and right now when so many people are losing their jobs or are out of work, family members might not have any resources to put toward a loved one’s bail," said Meredith Loomis Quinlan, executive co-director of Michigan Liberation.
Push to end cash bail
Under Michigan law, cash bail can be used for any criminal offense. How it's implemented variesacross the state.
A statewide task force aimed at lowering Michigan's jail population in January recommended that lawmakers Neighborhood Defender Service, a public defender office, represents 25% of adult felony cases in Wayne County. Their clients are predominantly people of color. Many have suffered trauma or have a mental health condition, said Kat Layton, a social worker with NDS.
Layton works with attorneys to present a full picture of a client's history in court. Before the pandemic, she said she'd fought for months for the release of a man with mental health issues.
Layton said the man stood accused of possessing a gun and living in an abandoned building. He'd been jailed since last June on $200,000 bond.
A judge in April lowered the man's bond to 10% of $15,000 after Layton and an attorney argued that his mental health would worsen the longer he sat in jail.
An attorney with the Detroit Justice Center arranged for Michigan Liberation to pay the man's $1,500 bail. His release was a victory, but Layton said the jail let him go without his psychotropic medication. It took many phone calls and advocacy between Layton and a staffer with Michigan Liberation to get him his medication. The man is now staying with his mother.
"I’ve helped other people get into residential facilities or mental health facilities or substance use facilities that aren't jail," Layton said, adding that housing is a major issue. "A lot of people are putting their heads together right now for the greater good."
For 53-year-old Tony Aldridge, continued assistance from Michigan Liberation after the organization posted his $2,500 bail on an unarmed robbery charge in Wayne County was a godsend.
He said they brought a box of food to his 真人百家家乐官网网站home in Detroit, gave him a gift certificate for clothes, got him approved for a $500 microgrant from the United Way and are working on finding him furniture.
"I still was stressed out when I got 真人百家家乐官网网站home because I had to deal with a lot of other things like lights and food," Aldridge said. "They’ve been helping me. Those are my angels. I have no other way of looking at it."
Michigan Liberation purchased a new water heater for Cross, the Inkster woman the group bailed out of Wayne County jail in May, with funds from National Bail Out. Cross said her family's water heater died while she was incarcerated. Her family had been boiling water for a little more than a month to get by.
While offering bailout assistance to medically vulnerable individuals during the pandemic, Michigan Liberation's leaders say they've continued to prioritize the release of Black mothers like Cross.
“Our justice system is not set up for the release of Black people and Black women because we don’t have the same access to lawyers and funds as other racial ethnicities,” Cross said. “We’re not equally charged with crimes. … We’re not treated the same. We’re not sentenced the same. So it means a lot to know that there's a group out here who spent time to specifically advocate for Black mothers."
How you can help
To make a donation to The Bail Project, go to bailproject.org. For bailout assistance, contact Asia Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 248-702-5430, or Megan Diebboll at email@example.com or 313-320-4463.
To donate to Michigan Liberation's bailout fund, go to secure.actblue.com/donate/blackmamasbailout. For bailout assistance, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-451-4392.
Angie Jackson covers the challenges of formerly incarcerated citizens as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, with support from the Hudson-Webber Foundation. Click here to support her work. Contact Angie: @AngieJackson23