Non-profit

National Bail Fund Network

The National Bail Fund Network (NBFN) is a network of over 80 separate community bail and bond funds.  The NBFN is not an organization in itself, but rather a list of local bail funds. The list is maintained and hosted by the Community Justice Exchange, a fiscally sponsored project of the left-leaning donor group Tides Foundation. [1]

After the 2020 protests of the police killing of George Floyd, the National Bail Fund Network organizations had received over $75 million, while Bail Project funds had received $15 million. In Minnesota, where Floyd was killed, the Minnesota Freedom Fund raised $20 million in four days and began telling people to donate elsewhere, yet still received another $10 million in the following days. [2]

Background

Courts often impose bail requirements to ensure that a defendant will show up for their trial. If the defendant shows up for trial, he get his money back; if the defendant does not show up for trial, the person or entity posting their bail will lose the money and the defendant will face additional charges for “bail jumping” or “skipping bail.” In recent years, critics of the bail system have argued that the bail system tends to disproportionately punish poor people, exacerbating the problems of poverty, and resulting in hundreds of thousands of detentions of people who have not been convicted of a crime. [3] The Prison Policy Initiative estimated the pre-trial detention population at 550,000 people, most in local jails, in 2020. [4]

Bail funds are collections of donations that are used to free defendants (usually low- income) from jail while awaiting trial. Bail funds—that is collectively organized, large scale bail funds rather than informally organized bail funds for individuals—originated in the 1920s when the American Civil Liberties Union created a “radical bail fund” of $300,000 in order to “free radicals, prosecuted under the sedition laws.” During the 1960s battles over civil rights, bail funds were created to secure the release of protesters. Similar bail funds were created for anti-war protesters. Other “community bail funds” have also been created by non-profit and religious organizations to focus on relieving the bail burdens within their local communities. Still other bail funds were created as collaborations between non-profit criminal justice organizations, local governments, and law enforcement agencies to address jail-overcrowding problems. [5]

History

The National Bail Fund Network, whose members were, collectively, the largest recipients of the 2020 surge of bail fund donations, was established in 2016. Today, it is composed of over 80 separate community bail funds, which use bail payments as part of a program to “end money bail and pretrial detention in both the criminal legal and immigration detention systems.” [6]

The NBFN was created with a grant of $404,800 from the Open Philanthropy Project, as a project of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund. The NBFN was created as an organizer that convenes bail funds to share knowledge and best practices, as well as coordinating on overall strategy. The NBFN also works with activists and legal providers who are using, or may use, bail funds, works to identify new jurisdictions where bail funds could be established, and provides assistance to new bail funds. [7] [8]

After the 2020 protests of the police killing of George Floyd, the community bail funds and protester bail funds “essentially merged,” according to National Bail Fund Network director Pilar Weiss, as bail funds across the United States were deluged with donations, largely driven by small donors. [9] By mid-June, less than one month after the killing of George Floyd, bail funds had received $90 million, with $16.5 million coming through a single portal on the left-progressive ActBlue fundraising website. The National Bail Fund Network organizations had received over $75 million, while Bail Project funds had received $15 million. In Minnesota, where Floyd was killed, the Minnesota Freedom Fund raised $20 million in four days and began telling people to donate elsewhere, yet still received another $10 million in the following days. [10]

The Brooklyn Community Bail Fund hosted the NBFN until October 2018 when the Community Justice Exchange took over as host of the NBFN. [11] The Community Justice Exchange (CJE) was created in 2018 as a fiscally-sponsored project of the Tides Foundation in order to support organizers for left-progressive criminal justice policies and leniency in criminal punishment. Management of the National Bail Fund Network is a “core project” of the CJE. [12]

CJE provides separate directories for pre-trial bail funds and immigration system bail funds. [13] [14]

Funding

In addition to small donor funding, the NBFN has also received substantial funding from the Open Philanthropy Project ($404,800 in 2016, $250,000 in 2018, $900,000 in 2019) and the Proteus Fund ($25,000 in 2018). [15] [16] [17] [18]  This funding is not simply one-time revenue that the NBFN will lose when it spends, according to New Yorker staff writer Jia Tolentino, but “can serve as a kind of endowment, because the bulk of the money almost always comes back.” This ensures that the bail funds will have extensive funding longer after the money is allocated to bails in 2020. [19]

However, the NBFN warns donors that the “funds may end or suspend their activity at times when local dynamics and capacity change.” [20]

Minnesota Freedom Fund Controversy

U.S. Senator and Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris (D-CA) has urged people to “help post bail for those protesting on the ground in Minnesota,” by donating to the Minnesota Freedom Fund. [21] This Fund regularly provides bail money for suspects charged with violent crimes, including murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, and shooting at police. [22]

Shortly after Senator Harris promoted it, the Minnesota Freedom Fund disclosed that it had raised $30 million, but only contributed “well over” $200,000 to bail payments. This prompted criticism from donors and other groups who were concerned that the organization was incapable of responsibly managing the funding it had already received. It was also revealed that the group’s only full-time employee, Tonja Honsey, was unable to say whether she was still involved with the fund due to ongoing arbitration with the fund’s board of directors. [23] Tonja Honsey was the recipient of a 2019 Open Society Justice Fellowship. [24]

Responding to criticism of the Minnesota Freedom Fund’s limited bail expenditures, Weiss said, “Hopefully people understand that just because Minnesota Freedom Fund received $31 million in donations, doesn’t mean that there has been $31 million in [protest] bail set to date.” Due to privacy and confidentiality considerations, donors do not receive disclosure on exactly how their donation is used, or who is bailed out with their donation. [25]

Leadership

The Tides Foundation fiscally sponsors the Community Justice Exchange, which “is working towards a world without prisons, policing, prosecution, surveillance or any form of detention or supervision.” [26] As such, CJE is run by its own staff, but operates as a “project of the Tides Center.” [27]

Pilar Weiss, who has worked as a professional left-progressive activist for decades, is the Director of the Community Justice Exchange, which hosts the National Bail Fund Network. She was previously an activist and organizer for left-of-center union movements and groups. [28]

In addition to Director Pilar Weiss, the NBFN has a staff of eight employees, including six organizers, a research coordinator, and a rapid response associate, as well as outside advisor. [29]

The outside advisor is Zohra Ahmed, who is a Clinical Teaching Fellow at the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide. In this position, Ahmed represents people on death row in the U.S., Tanzania, and Malawi. She also was a public defender in New York City, founded Court Watch NYC “to monitor criminal court proceedings and hold prosecutors accountable,” and trained with the ACLU to challenge the U.S. drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen. She has also investigated Israel’s activities inside that nation’s borders and its actions against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to which Ahmed refers as “Occupied Territories” and “Occupied Palestinian Territories.” [30][31]

While the National Bail Fund Network project is hosted by CJE, the NBFN does not operate any of the bail funds in its network. These bail and bond funds – more than 80 funds in 36 States – are independently operated. [32]

The NBFN’s Advisory Board includes Jee Park (Innocence Project), Brenda Choresi Carter (Women Donors Network Reflective Democracy Campaign), Jocelyn Simonson (Brooklyn Law School), and Andrea James (National Council of Incarcerated & Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls). [33]

References

  1. Community Justice Exchange, National Bail Fund Network. Accessed October 09, 2020.
    https://www.communityjusticeexchange.org/national-bail-fund-network ^
  2. Goldmacher, Shane, “Racial Justice Groups Flooded With Millions in Donations in Wake of Floyd Death,” New York Times, June 16, 2020. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/14/us/politics/black-lives-matter-racism-donations.html ^
  3. Traub, Alex, “How Does Bail Work, and Why Do People Want to Get Rid of It?,” New York Times, January 11, 2019. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/11/nyregion/how-does-bail-work-and-why-do-people-want-to-get-rid-of-it.html ^
  4. Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner, “Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2020,” Prison Policy Initiative, March 24, 2020. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2020.html ^
  5. Robin Steinberg, Lillian Kalish, Ezra Ritchin, “Freedom Should Be Free: A Brief History of Bail Funds in the United States,” UCLA Criminal Justice Law Review, 2018. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://escholarship.org/content/qt37s1d3c2/qt37s1d3c2.pdf ^
  6. Community Justice Exchange, National Bail Fund Network. Accessed October 09, 2020. https://www.communityjusticeexchange.org/national-bail-fund-network ^
  7. Open Philanthropy, National Bail Fund Network June 2017 Update. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.openphilanthropy.org/files/Grants/Brooklyn_Community_Bail_Fund/National_Bail_Fund_Network_June_Update_06-30-17.pdf  ^
  8. Open Philanthropy, Brooklyn Community Bail Fund — General Support. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.openphilanthropy.org/focus/us-policy/criminal-justice-reform/brooklyn-community-bail-fund-general-support ^
  9. Tolentino, Jia, “Where Bail Funds Go from Here,” New Yorker, June 23, 2020. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.newyorker.com/news/annals-of-activism/where-bail-funds-go-from-here ^
  10. Goldmacher, Shane, “Racial Justice Groups Flooded With Millions in Donations in Wake of Floyd Death,” New York Times, June 16, 2020. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/14/us/politics/black-lives-matter-racism-donations.html ^
  11. Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, National Bail Fund Network. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://brooklynbailfund.org/national-bail-fund-network ^
  12. Tides Foundation, 2018 Overview. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.tides.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Tides-2018-brochure.pdf ^
  13. Community Justice Exchange, Directory of Pretrial System Bail Funds. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.communityjusticeexchange.org/pretrial-directory ^
  14. Community Justice Exchange, Director of Immigration System Bail Funds. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.communityjusticeexchange.org/immigration-directory ^
  15. Open Philanthropy, Brooklyn Community Bail Fund — General Support. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.openphilanthropy.org/focus/us-policy/criminal-justice-reform/brooklyn-community-bail-fund-general-support ^
  16. Open Philanthropy Project, “Community Justice Exchange — General Support.” Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.openphilanthropy.org/focus/us-policy/criminal-justice-reform/community-justice-exchange-general-support ^
  17. Open Philanthropy Project, “Community Justice Exchange — Technical Assistance and Campaign Support.” Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.openphilanthropy.org/focus/us-policy/criminal-justice-reform/community-justice-exchange-technical-assistance-campaign-support ^
  18. Proteus Fund, Tides Center, “To support Community Justice Exchange’s operations.” Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.proteusfund.org/grant/tidescenter-3/ ^
  19. Tolentino, Jia, “Where Bail Funds Go from Here,” New Yorker, June 23, 2020. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.newyorker.com/news/annals-of-activism/where-bail-funds-go-from-here ^
  20. Community Justice Exchange, NBFN Directory. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.communityjusticeexchange.org/nbfn-directory ^
  21. Tyler Olson, “Bail fund backed by Kamala Harris and Joe Biden staffers bailed out alleged child abuser, court docs show,” FoxNews.com, September 17, 2020. Accessed October 18, 2020. https://www.foxnews.com/politics/bail-fund-backed-by-kamala-harris-and-biden-staffers-bailed-out-alleged-child-abuser ^
  22. Lyden, Tom, “Minnesota nonprofit with $35M bails out those accused of violent crimes,” Fox9, August 10, 2020. https://www.fox9.com/news/minnesota-nonprofit-with-35m-bails-out-those-accused-of-violent-crimes ^
  23. [1] Bromwich, Jonah, “The Minnesota Freedom Fund Has $30 Million and an Identity Crisis,” New York Times, June 16, 2020. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/16/style/minnesota-freedom-fund-donations.html ^
  24. Open Society Foundations, Soros Justice Fellowships, Tonja Honsey. Accessed October 12, 2020.
    https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/grants/soros-justice-fellowships?fellow=tonja-honsey ^
  25. Toussaint, Kristin, “The controversy over how the Minnesota Freedom Fund is spending its donations, explained,” Fast Company, June 18, 2020. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.fastcompany.com/90517597/the-controversy-over-how-the-minnesota-freedom-fund-is-spending-its-donations-explained ^
  26. Community Justice Exchange, Our Work. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.communityjusticeexchange.org/our-work ^
  27. Community Justice Exchange, Donate. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.communityjusticeexchange.org/donate ^
  28. Community Justice Exchange, Who We Are. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.communityjusticeexchange.org/who-we-are ^
  29. Community Justice Exchange, Whoe We Are. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.communityjusticeexchange.org/who-we-are ^
  30. Cornell Law School, Zohra Ahmed profile page, Accessed October 18, 2020.  https://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/faculty/bio_clinical_fellows.cfm?id=948 ^
  31. Zohra Ahmed, “Prawer Plan buries the two state solution,” Al Jazeera, December 11, 2013. Accessed October 18, 2020. https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2013/12/11/prawer-plan-buries-the-two-state-solution/ ^
  32. [1] Community Justice Exchange, National Bail Fund Network Directory. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.communityjusticeexchange.org/nbfn-directory ^
  33. [1] Community Justice Exchange, Who We Are. Accessed October 12, 2020. https://www.communityjusticeexchange.org/who-we-are ^
  See an error? Let us know!