Most people who are in jail are there on pretrial detention. This means they have not been convicted of any crimes but are awaiting further court proceedings. In order to get out of jail after an arrest, you need to post bail.
Most courts in the U.S. currently use a cash bail system. This system has been shown to discriminate against low-income and minority populations. Bail funds are one method organizations and people use to help low-income or other pretrial detainees to get out of jail.
Bail funds are not new. Nor are they legal defense funds, meaning they do not pay for your criminal defense if you are accused of a crime. You can find a criminal defense lawyer elsewhere. Instead, bail funds provide the money for defendants to get out of jail while awaiting further court proceedings. This can allow the accused defendant or an asylum-seeker to go to work, prepare their case, and avoid the harmful consequences associated with a lengthy stay in jail.
To understand the usefulness of a bail fund it is necessary to understand the basics of bail. Bail is, essentially, a payment made as a promise to return for future court proceedings. If you post bail and come back for your scheduled court appearances you get your bail money back.
A judge sets the amount of bail based on a number of factors such as the individual's flight risk, the risk of harm to the community, and others. There can also be conditions set for bail, such as not leaving the state. While most defendants have bail set, the U.S. Constitution does not require it. Judges can refuse to set bail if they deem the risk too high.
Once you post bail you get out of jail.
Bail and bond are often used interchangeably - but they are not the same thing. A bond is just one way to post bail. Usually, this takes the form of a bail bond company. Many can usually be found around any U.S. courthouse.
A bail bondsman will pay bail on behalf of the person jailed, telling the court that they will secure the accused person's return to court. They do not keep the bail money, but instead charge you a fee.
Bail funds are not bond companies. For one, bail funds post your bail without a fee. Bail funds are often charitable organizations. They help the defendant post bail and then recover the money when you get your bail money back.
Protests and rallies often lead to arrests. Sometimes, those arrests can be for legitimate reasons. However, protesting is a right protected by the First Amendment. While that right doesn't cover all conduct at rallies and protests, many people nonetheless recognize that those participating in a legitimate protest should not be arrested for expressing their views. That is one reason why bail funds have become more prominent in recent years.
Another reason is the inequality seen in the criminal justice system today. If you are a low-income, non-violent offender who is neither a risk to the community or a flight risk, you could still spend many more months in jail than someone who could post bail. Spending a long time in pretrial detention is more than just unpleasant. Even if you ultimately prove yourself innocent you can still lose your job, your home, and relationships unnecessarily.
Many bail funds are nonprofits and tend to be local. However, they are increasing in prominence due to the Black Lives Matter movement and many organizations looking at criminal justice reform. Bail funds may also lobby and otherwise advocate for bail reform generally.
If you are looking for help from a bail fund, or wish to donate, here are some resources below:
Bail funds typically use referrals from friends and family. If you are looking for the assistance of a bail fund, you'll need to contact them and provide information. If you qualify, they will post bail for the person in jail. If you are looking to donate, check that the bail fund is a nonprofit.