Bail Black Mamas Out for Mother's Day
In 2017, a 24-year-old Black mother of three found herself locked in a county jail. She was four months pregnant. Two months passed without word about when she’d be getting out, triggering a manic episode that led to solitary confinement. A third month came and went with no real prenatal care and no sign of release. Her initial offense? Unable to secure childcare, she had brought her children with her to her probation check-in, which is against the rules.
“Her bail was maybe $250,” said Samantha Master, coordinator of Free Black Mamas DMV.
“While she was confined, she lost access to housing. Her children were separated from her, and she lost everything,” said Master. “When we read about women like this and like Sandra Bland whose bail was $300… it is unconscionable.”
Free Black Mamas DMV paid the bail for that mom and 15 others that year, no strings attached. The Maryland-based coalition is part of the National Bail Out network, which takes direct action to end pretrial detention, cash bail and mass incarceration while rescuing Black femmes, mothers and caretakers along the way. Free Black Mamas DMV also provides coming home ceremonies and 90 days of wrap-around services, including temporary housing, group therapy, job training, and case management.
“We helped one mother who had been sitting in jail since last June. We bailed her out for $100. Last year we bailed out a woman who had been sitting in jail for four months for $50.”
Master noted that the DMV arm has helped 28 people and paid bails of up to $5,000.
“What we see consistently is that people are being punished for their inability to pay,”
she said. “The state is ransoming our people.”
At local, state and federal levels, court commissioners decide whether defendants should be released before trial or held on bail. In many cases these officials are also free to determine — at their own discretion — the bail amount and whether a person is eligible to be represented by a public defender. Court commissioners are average citizens who apply for the job and receive a few weeks training if appointed. In Maryland, the only requirements are a bachelor’s degree and driver’s license.
Free Black Mamas campaigns were pioneered in 2017 and circulated by LGBTQ/social justice activists Pat Hussain, Mary Hooks, and the organizers at Southerners On New Ground, based in Atlanta. Since then, National Bail Out has launched coalitions in 24 cities across 16 states, and has paid close to $1 million in bail to free more than 300 moms suffering in jail without having been tried or convicted.
Free Black Mamas DMV wants to bail out 15 Black women this year. So far, they have secured the release of six, just in time for Mother’s Day. The coalition is accepting a wide range of support, including job interviews, free rides to court dates, and bail fund donations. Master encourages the public to visit dmvbailout.com or nationalbailout.org to get involved with an existing campaign or secure resources to organize their own.
Currently, only five states plus Washington, D.C. have ended or largely discontinued pretrial cash bail.
“Eighty-five percent of incarcerated women are mothers, and prior to their incarceration they were the primary caretakers of their children,” said Andrea James, executive director of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, adding that these women are usually the ones bailing others out.
“[Incarceration] has this real ripple effect within that household. It directly affects children and the elderly and people who are living in the household who rely on the caretaking of this woman for other reasons.”
— Jazelle Hunt