© 2022 WGLT
NPR from Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Black Lives Matters Pushes For Bail Reform With Father's Day Campaign

Oliva Butts, left and members of BLM BloNo after bailing out Myleria Shane Briggs on Mother's Day
Black Lives Matter BloNo
Oliva Butts, left, and members of Black Lives Matters BloNo after bailing out Myleria Shane Briggs for Mother's Day.

Black Lives Matter BloNo is continuing an awareness campaign spotlighting how the bail system disproportionately affects the poor, and especially people of color.

In May, BLM initiated a GoFundMe campaign that raised $2,535 for the release of Myleria Shane Briggs in time for Mother's Day. The 21-year-old had been jailed since May 1 on burglary and retail theft charges.

The advocacy group has now initiated a similar fund drive to raise bail to release a man for Father's Day.

Black Lives Matter BloNo leadership table member Olivia Butts said the disproportionate number of arrests and canine searches of black people stretches into the bail system.

"The reason we focus on black folks is because the bail system and justice system disproportionately affects them."

“Black folks are over two times more likely to be arrested. They are two times more likely to be detained pre-trial. And black men typically have 30 percent higher bail charges than their white counterparts. So we’re focusing on people most affected by pre-charged bail,” said Butts.

Money bail is designed as a refundable deposit to ensure that people who are charged with a crime show up for their day in court. But the combination of higher bail and less access to money than whites makes meeting bail a much higher hurdle for people of color.

Another argument for the money bail system is it keeps potentially dangerous people from being released from jail before trial, where they could commit more crimes. Butts rejects the premise.

“It’s not like keeping people in jail is going to make the community safer,” said Butts. “Because if they had enough money they’d already be out. Which implies that people with more wealth are less likely to commit a crime, and that’s just not the case.”

She adds the U.S. has a “presumed innocent” policy for those who have not yet appeared in court. Using a money bail system can work against that principle as a form of coercion, in that loss of a job or harm to a family may be an incentive to confess, even by those who may not be guilty.

“Again, if they had the money, they’d already be out of jail. That’s what we have to remember about pre-trial incarceration. So we don’t have to think of this as a public safety concern because it’s about wealth, and your ability to pay bail. And if you could pay, you’d already be out,” said Butts.

So what are bail alternatives?

Butts cites states and jurisdictions across the country that have adopted a risk assessment system where people are evaluated on a case-by-case basis on their likelihood to flee or not show up for a court date.

“And sometimes they can even be monitored by a certain agency to make sure they come back,” said Butts, who added often those assessments are made by an independent body outside the justice system.

It’s one thing to have an awareness campaign, but to enact real change BLM and other groups will need help in Springfield. That includes relationships with local state Rep. Dan Brady, as well as state Sens. Jason Barickman and Bill Brady. Butts said at this point BLM BloNo is more focused on making Bloomington-Normal aware of its concerns about the money bail system.

“And then maybe people in our community can go out and support folks and politicians who might be interested in reforming our bail system,” said Butts.

BLM BloNo is specifically looking to bail out a black father. Does this set the advocacy group up for criticism, as many white people in jail also lack access to money?

“The reason we focus on black folks is because the bail system and justice system disproportionately affects them,” said Butts. “And we are Black Lives Matter BloNo, so we try to focus on people of color. If we had enough money, we’d bail out as many people as we could, regardless of race."

Video: Watch a video of the Mother's Day bailout.

Listen the entire GLT interview with BLM BloNo member Olivia Butts.

WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.