In time for the holiday season, the Portland Freedom Fund (PFF) has set a $50,000 fundraising goal to help post bail for 20 people of color.
The funds will go towards the most vulnerable – women, LBTGQ people, and those under the age of 18 – who are pending bail in Multnomah County’s two jails.
Today, around half of Multnomah County’s jailed population are behind bars without having been convicted. This means roughly 500 people are being held “pre-trail” – either because they’re considered too great a threat to society, they’re awaiting transfer to another law enforcement agency, or simple because they couldn't afford their bail.
“Cash bail preys on the poor and minorities,” said Gina Spencer, founder of PFF and part-time psychiatric nurse practitioner for Washington County jails.
“Bails are not set on a person’s ability to pay and so people languish in jail having not been convicted of a crime.”
According to a report from the Sheriff’s Office, while an average pre-trial stay in the county jail is 12 days, some people can be incarcerated up to months and even years. On Nov. 1, 162 people had been behind bars for at least five months, or 150 days, without a conviction.
For African Americans, incarceration rates fare far worse than for White defendants.
In Multnomah County, Black people represent 27 percent of people in prisons and jails yet only six percent of the population. Moreover, a 2016 report found that Oregon imprisons African Americans at the seventh highest rate in the nation. In other words, for every 1,000 Black Oregonians, about 21 are in prison.
The PFF’s seasonal fundraiser falls in step with similar initiatives focused on bailing out defendants during times of celebration. Last May, when PFF was formed, Portland-area activists raised over $20,000 in an effort to bail out Black mothers so they could be reunited with their children for Mother’s Day.
Women in general are the fastest-growing population of people in jails and prisons, and Black women are disproportionately represented in correctional facilities nationwide.
In June, the PFF continued to post bail for Black mothers and fathers in honor of Father’s Day and Juneteenth.
Ultimately, these bail-out campaigns are aimed at highlighting what the PFF sees is an inevitable end to the money bail system in Oregon.
“The potential consequences are devastating,” said Spencer, of people jailed while awaiting bail. “People lose their employment, housing and possibly their children.
“Most harmful, in my opinion, are people who take plea deals just to avoid rotting in jail because they can’t pay their bail,” she continued. “That isn’t justice. The wealthy don’t have to make those type of choices.”
Last August, California became the first state to abolish money bail, effective in October 2019.
To date, the PFF has spent almost $31,000 on posting bail for 14 people “whose continued incarceration was simply because they could not afford to purchase their freedom,” it stated in a press release.
Anyone can make a tax-deductible donation of any amount through the PFF website at www.portlandfreedomfund.org.