of people in the Alameda County Jail have not been convicted of a crime, and are being held only because of the current bail system.*
*based on most recent data available from the CA Board of State and Community Corrections daily average prison populations in county jails.
“These families in court, even if they don’t know each other, are connected. They know each other’s pain without speaking it.”
Why are you in court today?
I myself have been through the hoops that the bail system puts you through. I've seen the ripple effect that it has on families and how it establishes cycles.
Why should the bail system change?
Why should money be the determinant of someone's likelihood to return to court? The bail system should change because it is illogical.
meet the author:
Minutes of collect
A day in alameda court
The Fremont Superior Court is located in the new downtown Fremont. The courthouse is down the street from the police department and surrounded by restaurants, stores, Fremont’s largest community park and library.
As I walk through the parking lot, I am reminded that a courthouse and prison are the two places I am never at peace while inside their walls. The same process to visit a prison is what you endure entering a courthouse, starting with the line outside, removing jackets, placing your personal belongings in a plastic tray to be put through an x-ray machine. Lastly, you walk through the metal detector, so all I carry in is my car keys if I am driving. I have made it a mission to find ways to get through these two places with the least amount of pain and resistance for families I support and myself.
You will always see the Santa Rita County Jail bus as you walk through the parking lot and police cars from various cities. This is a small courthouse compared to the others in our county, consisting of only two floors. Arraignment hearings are on the second floor in departments 601 and 604. Both departments handle arraignment proceedings for felony and misdemeanor cases combined.
I have made it through the maze and now enter the small courtroom; the staff are all white except the court reporter.
Those in custody enter the courtroom in small groups, many of the young men look like they just turned 18. They try to get a glance of who is in the room, looking for a family member in the seating area. Of course, this makes the bailiff look our way to assure no one is making motions or trying to speak to them. To see the faces of these men and sometimes their physical injuries from “resisting arrest” is disheartening.
There were eighteen cases heard in three hours, all were men of color except for two. Bail amounts ranged from $2,000 to $150,000. To hear the amounts is stressful enough -- how do you get the money or collateral to make bail? Looking around, I know some of these families in this court will consider offering up their home as collateral. They are faced with anxiety filled questions like: do you or someone you know own a home? Will they be willing to take the chance on you or your loved one?
And the reality is as these families sitting in court are thinking about collecting money for bail — their financial lives may be falling apart due to the incarceration of their loved ones. If these families are unable to attain the funds for bail, then they may just lose it all if the loved one is the main provider. They may lose their home, car, and have no food on the table for their children.
I have personally made the hard decisions on which bill to short pay in order for us to stay connected to family incarcerated. My children grew up with collect calls as the norm due to the incarceration of family members who couldn’t make bail. Because even if a family doesn’t make bail, they are still paying for costs of their loved one in the jail. We pay for packages, stamps, commissary and the collect calls on countless occasions. That’s why these families in court, even if they don’t know each other, are connected. They know each other’s pain without speaking it.
One woman asked to speak after her boyfriend was given a bail amount of $10,000. She was asking for a lower bail stating he works and would show up to court as requested. The judge responded by saying it didn’t matter - that the bail amount was set.
The courtroom is one place the family can show each other a unique, unconditional compassion. A woman in the back of the room is trying to comfort another woman that has tears rolling down her face holding in her cry.
An elderly woman was asking a man what was happening about a case of her loved one and the bailiff asked her to be quiet or step outside. If she steps outside, she will not to know what is said. How is this justice? Our system is not user friendly, humane, or just. Two men were released today as the charges were ridiculous and the judge knew it. But I wonder what was lost during their time of detention, because they couldn’t afford the bail amount? They no longer have charges, but there is still the permanent harm of incarceration.
The bail system is unfair for working and middle class communities; as we usually have to leave a loved one incarcerated instead of bringing them home simply because we don’t have the resources to pay for their freedom. How can you show who you really are as a person if you are unable to bail out due to the financial burden it brings?
I have observed countless arraignments and preliminary hearings supporting families in this courthouse, this very room. The sad fact is the courthouse has become a source of income for the bail bonds industry and department of corrections off the backs of our families.
grassroots organizations fighting for bail reform
COMMUNITIES UNITED FOR RESTORATIVE YOUTH JUSTICE
A.L. Costa Community Development Center
East Bay Times: "Alameda County Courts moving most inmate arraignments back to Oakland"
East Bay Citizen: "Pamela Price, one-time attorney for woman at center of Oakland police scandal, eyes run for Alameda County DA"
Mercury News: "‘Mama’s Bail Out Day’: Racial Justice Activists Seek Bail Reform in California"