INDIANAPOLIS - Numbers from organizations like the Prison Policy Initiative and the American Civil Liberties Union estimate between 450,000 and 700,000, on any given this day in the country, are sitting in jail. A majority of them have not been convicted of a crime. They can't afford to bail out of jail to await their day in court. That's where The Bail Project steps in to help.
The Bail Project is a national not for profit that pays bail for people too poor to pay for it themselves. The group operates a revolving bail fund that they use to "prevent incarceration and combat racial and economic disparities in the bail system."
The Bail Project's way of working in Indianapolis and the rest of the state, however, in now running into some roadblocks.
This week, Marion County Courts suspended their agreement with The Bail Project until they receive more information about who they're helping. This means if they pay bail for someone, the money will go back to their client, not them. It'll be up to the person they help to give the money back to the organization.
This suspension was precipitated by three notable cases where after The Bail Project got three people (Marcus Garvin, Travis Lang and Deonta Williams) out of a jail, they went on to be accused of violent crimes. These are three people out of the 941 they've helped.
Despite that low number, these three cases are being used by state lawmakers to significantly hamper, if not all together shutdown, The Bail Project in Indiana. They're doing it through Senate Bill 8, authored by Sen. Aaron Freeman.
"Senate Bill 8 deals with these charitable bail organizations so it's going to do three things. It's going to bring them under a state umbrella. The State Department of Insurance will have to certify these programs," Freeman said during a Thursday press conference. "Any not for profit that takes public tax dollars will not be able to post the bond for somebody to get out of jail. Third, if the bail organization does post a bond and that person is convicted of a crime, the courts is going to have first take out of that bond money, court costs, fees, fines, restitution, probation fees."
Despite authoring a bill that targets The Bail Project, he told WRTV he has not had any conversations with the organization. However, he said he is willing to talk with them.
In response to Senate Bill 8, The Bail Project sent the following statement to WRTV.
"It is very telling that these lawmakers want to regulate a charity that provides free bail assistance to the poor, when there is an entire for-profit bail bond industry that can pay bail for whoever they want as long as they can afford their fee. Our goal is simply to protect the presumption of innocence and ensure that people get equal access to this fundamental Constitutional protection regardless of the size of their bank account. Lawmakers should be working to end cash bail so due process is no longer a matter of how much money you have, instead of targeting charities that deal with the consequences of this two-tiered system of justice."
They sent this statement in response to the Marion Count Courts suspending their agreement.
"Judges set cash bail and once they do, it should not matter who posts the bail, whether it is a family member, a bail bonds company, or a charity like ours. The fact that our not-for-profit is being singled out for requirements is concerning. We stand by the value of our services in helping people who are too poor to afford bail and we look forward to discussing our program directly with the court to address the topics raised in this letter. In the meantime, we will continue providing bail assistance as we have for nearly 1,000 low-income Hoosiers to date, particularly with the holidays around the corner when so many families are separated because they cannot afford bail for a loved one."
Both statements came from David Gaspar, The Bail Project's National Director of Operations