In the criminal justice system, judges set bail to provide clients with an incentive to return to court. However, the unfortunate reality is that many clients in poor communities of color like the Bronx are too poor to make bail, even if it is as low as $500. Forced to remain behind bars, their lives fall apart: They lose their jobs; their physical and mental health deteriorates; and their families’ social and economic networks fall apart. In the face of these consequences and under the threat of continued incarceration, many defendants, whether guilty or innocent, plead guilty simply to get out of jail. With assistance from the Bronx Freedom Fund, a client’s poverty cannot force them to choose between staying in jail and having their day in court.
The Bronx Freedom Fund, a rotating criminal bail fund, posts up to $2,000 bail for poor South Bronx residents charged with misdemeanors. Simply by posting bail and allowing a poor defendant to fight a minor criminal charge from a position of freedom, most cases that would have otherwise led to life changing criminal convictions, result in dismissals or non-criminal dispositions. This decrease in incarceration on both ends of the criminal case results in enormous savings to taxpayers; a dollar spent by the bail fund saves more than 6 dollars in incarceration costs. And because bail is returned by the government at the close of the case, the bail fund is able to re-use each dollar of capital several times per year and remain largely self-sustaining.