New Orleans leads all U.S. cities in jailing its people, and Nicole is just one of many in jail for being poor. How did we get here?
Opinion by Flozell Daniels Jr., originally featured in The Times-Picayune and on Nola.com.
[IMAGE: Kenneth Harrison]
“In 2017, while many of us in New Orleans were preparing to observe the tricentennial, Nicole, a hardworking local mom was pulled over for not wearing her seatbelt. The eventual cost? A month in Orleans Parish jail, the loss of her job, a missed family holiday, several missed parent teacher conferences, and thousands of dollars in taxpayer money. New Orleans leads all U.S. cities in jailing its people, and Nicole is just one of many in jail for being poor. How did we get here?
History teaches us that bail in Louisiana was originally a right to release, granted on a pledge without payment: “the prisoner must be discharged without extracting from him the payment of any fees,” wrote Edward Livingston at the time of our first constitution. Yet there was still a price placed on certain people’s freedom, with profits made from lodging enslaved people in jail for “safe keeping” and capturing anyone accused of being a “fugitive” — and these unnecessary costs were passed on to taxpayers. As we extended rights to formerly enslaved peoples, the right to release became available only to those who could pay up front for their liberty — and our modern money bail system was created.
Let’s go back to Nicole. After she received a ticket for the seatbelt violation, she forgot to pay it. Haven’t we all forgotten a ticket, especially when juggling family life and working full-time jobs? A year later, Nicole was pulled over in a routine traffic stop and taken to jail for driving on a suspended license, something she didn’t realize could happen just from not paying one ticket. Her penalty? Bail, fees and fines that were too high to pay on her $26,500 per-year salary, the median income for black women working full-time in Louisiana. In this system that effectively treats poverty as a crime, neither Nicole nor her family could buy her freedom.” >> Continue reading on Nola.com
At a time when we are trying to reckon with our history as a country, we must also reckon with practices that are rooted in slavery. Money bail is one of them.
- DONATE to #EndMoneyBail: All proceeds received through this link will go directly toward assisting bailout actions and stopping the money bail system in Louisiana.
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- READ “From Bondage to Bail Bonds: Putting a Price on Freedom in New Orleans“ : a brief on the history of bail, the processes and costs of modern money bail, and successful alternative models from jurisdictions that have ended money-based detention.
- WATCH a discussion on how to #EndMoneyBail and make our pre-trail system more just. Featuring the Foundation’s CEO, Flozell Daniels Jr., Al Jazeera English, and others on The Stream.