Southerners on New Ground

Southerners on New Ground

By Taneasha White, Brooke Taylor, Sarmistha Talukdar & Rebecca Wooden Keel • 

Mother’s Day inspires images of family, bonding and care. May 12th is right around the corner, and many of us will be spending the day with our family. However, we forget that many Black women will spend this day in cages, just because they don’t have enough money to pay bail. The system treats folks impacted by the carceral system with injustice that is reflective of days which legalized slavery, criminalized black people and set the stage for Jim Crow on stolen land. The system of slavery has directly built the path for the prison industrial complex.

The Prison Industrial Complex is a term that was coined by Angela Davis in 1998 to describe the systematic mass incarceration of Black and Brown people across the Nation. Incarcerating minorities aids in satiating the needs of Corporate America in several key ways. First, it provides basically free labor to burgeoning companies that are then able to watch their profits soar even higher (examples: Walmart, Whole Foods). Secondly, some corporations invest into private prisons and thus literally profit from each person who is incarcerated in that facility (examples: Xerox, Hewlett Packard). Lastly, through the disenfranchisement of millions of minority voters, corporations are able to ensure conservative politicians at the local, state, and federal level who support the expansion of mass incarceration.

Over 219,000 AFAB (assigned female at birth) people are incarcerated in US, with half in local jails. Many have not been convicted and are awaiting trial due to inability to meet bail. AFAB incarceration rates have grown at twice the pace as men over recent decades. More than 60 percent of women who are incarcerated have at least one child under 18 In 2016. Black women incarcerated at twice the rate as white women, Latinx women incarcerated at 1.4x the rate of white women, and the rate of growth for female imprisonment has been twice as high as that of men since 1980. There are 1.2 million women under the supervision of the criminal justice system. Women in state prisons are more likely than men to be incarcerated for a drug or property offense. Compared to 14 percent of incarcerated men, 25 percent of incarcerated women have been convicted with a drug offense; 27 percent of incarcerated women have been convicted of a property crime, in contrast with 17 percent of incarcerated men. The median annual income for a black woman unable to post bail in the US was $9,083 prior to incarceration* (2015). 80% of women in jails are mothers with around 9000 women enter jail or prison while pregnant (Vera institute of Justice 2016 report).

Girls of color are much more likely to be incarcerated than white girls. The number of incarcerated youth has declined significantly, but the placement rate for African American girls (110 per 100,000) and Native girls (134 per 100,000) is more than three times greater than for white girls (32 per 100,000). Girls are more likely to be incarcerated for the lowest level offenses; 38 percent of youth incarcerated for status offenses like truancy and curfew violations are girls, and more than half of all youth incarcerated for running away are girls.

Cash bail is a facet of the criminal “justice” system that requires folks to essentially pay for their freedom. After arrest and upon waiting for trial, judges can issue a cash bail bond, and at least ten percent of that bail bond is due in order for the individual to be released. This system is dangerously inequitable, and an example of how this system is set up against people of color; low-income communities are automatically at a disadvantage, and these communities are disproportionately Black and Brown.

Black folks are 2.5 times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts, and 60 percent of individuals who are held in jail are proven innocent during their trial, showing that their preemptive incarceration was not due to safety. Despite the potential innocence or non-violent nature of someone’s holding, post their release, they are undoubtedly in a more disadvantaged economic position, even further widen the gap of equity.

Reunited family and SONG organizers at Homecoming celebration, June 2018

Southerners on New Ground members at a conference, 2019

In Virginia, prosecutors do not have much power over setting bail, as it is done first by magistrates and then by judges. Our wider culture depicts ‘flight risk’ and ‘dangerous’ as poor and black, and so it is incredibly easy for a judge or magistrate to be biased in their decisions (Credit: Helen Li, Gildapapoose collective in DC, and RVA Bail Fund), leading to unjust practices.

At the local level, there are a couple of different initiatives in the works to either end or alter the system of cash bail. Southerners on New Ground (SONG) is leading the charge within Richmond’s metro region, with the end goal of ending cash bail and replacing it with a more equitable solution. Annually, SONG holds city wide fundraisers around Mother’s Day and in August– entitled Black Mama’s Bail Out and August Bail Out, respectively. This grassroots fundraising is supported completely by the community, done through events held throughout the summer. Some folks are selling merchandise, others are holding parties/musical events, some are working on doing direct asks for in-kind donations. The money that’s raised goes directly to posting bond for parents who are sitting in jail waiting for their trial, and then materials and products collected are utilized for care packages to distribute to those folks post-release.

In order to support the effort of transformative justice in Richmond, donations of materials, time, or funds are needed. SONG has an ongoing fundraiser for bail out funding, and you can contact for more information or if you’re interested in volunteering. This week we are aiming to bail out at least 7 Black mamas from Henrico County Jail. We have also planned a Homecoming on May 19th to welcome the Black mamas into the community. You can also support these endeavors by donating to SONG.