The Indiana chapter of the ANSWER Coalition as well as our leading member, the Indianapolis branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, unilaterally condemn House Bill 1376 and declare it sets a dangerous precedent for the future of civil rights in Indiana.
HB 1376 would require all charitable bail organizations – of which, The Bail Project is the only such organization in the State of Indiana – abide by the following restrictions: certification by the commissioner of the department of insurance; restriction of cash bail amount to $2,000 USD or less and only on the condition that the defendant is charged only with a misdemeanor; requires that the defendant receiving assistance be indigent; requires the representation of a bail agent, and that the organization “meet certain other requirements”. Further, it would restrict the number of clients that The Bail Project would be permitted to represent within an 180 day period to a maximum of two individuals.
Three out of every five persons held in jails in the U.S. today have not been convicted of a crime – rather, they are guilty of not being able to afford bail. As of late 2020, this amounted to roughly 500,000 people who are legally innocent until proven guilty of the crime of which they have been charged, making up more than two-thirds of the US jail population. The cash bail system criminalizes poverty, and has been shown to further worsen the conditions of working families. Spending even a few days in jail – and many pretrial detentions can last up to several months – can result in the loss of employment, housing, custody of children, and increase the likelihood of rearrest upon release. People inside jail are at risk of sexual, physical, and emotional violence. Further, the predatory bail bonds industry which has grown around the institution of cash bail puts greater financial strain on all but the wealthy.
The Bail Project is the only non-profit in Indiana which provides the service of cash bail to anyone who cannot afford it, and until the institution of cash bail is ended, their mission must continue. A person living in poverty need not be indigent to benefit from such an organization, neither should politicians who can easily afford legal fees be the arbiters of who is and is not a legitimate recipient. Their client support specialists work tirelessly to chart a roadmap of success for bail recipients, including but not limited to ensuring they are capable of returning to court dates, giving them referrals to social services, and helping them overcome the barriers of bureaucracy. Such a needs-focused approach is what being released on personal recognizance must become, and evidence-based data of the tens of thousands of bailouts returning dutifully to court without issue proves that a community of support is far more capable than any jail cell.
Bills such as HB 1376 would markedly harm the most vulnerable Hoosiers, not keep them safe. By limiting the ability of The Bail Project to carry on with its mission, the legislature tacitly affirms that mass incarceration is preferable to healthy communities, healthy families, and a healthy respect for the inalienable right to human dignity.
We urge Indiana lawmakers to reassess their priorities for 2021, and to remember their purpose as public servants whose singular role is to reflect the will and welfare of the people.
And as we fight against this reactionary bill, we continue to struggle against the racist mass incarceration system in the U.S. Free them all!