Posted on June 15, 2018
Every few weeks, the Weissberg Foundation features a story from one of our Reframing <Washington> Empowerment Fund grantee partners to shine a light on their critical work. Learn more about these powerful organizations by visiting their websites.
In a criminal justice system in which defendants are supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, cash bail causes a massive injustice—the incarceration of individuals who have not yet been tried simply because they cannot afford bail. Thousands of Marylanders of low-risk and limited means are currently languishing in jail for days, weeks, or months awaiting trial. In the meantime, many of them, including those will ultimately be found “not guilty” by a court, are losing their jobs and homes and are unable to care for their families.
Pre-trial incarceration has catastrophic impacts on black communities in particular. Black people are over two times more likely to be arrested, and once arrested are twice as likely to be held in jail until their trial. LBGTQ+ and gender-nonconforming people of color are jailed at even higher and more alarming rates, and suffer high rates of sexual and physical abuse while in jail. Nearly 80% of women in jail are mothers, most are single mothers, and the vast majority are incarcerated for non-violent crimes.
Over Mother’s Day weekend, Progressive Maryland and our partners People’s Action and Life After Release bailed out six mothers from Prince George’s County jails so that they could spend the holiday with their children. Throughout the spring, our organizers met with jail officials to plan for and implement the bailout effort as well as to educate officials on pretrial service programs. Within just a few weeks, we collected donations of clothing and toiletries to help get the moms back on their feet and raised nearly $6,000 through grassroots fundraising efforts to pay for their bail. Local elected officials also got involved in our efforts, with State Senator and Prince George’s County State’s Attorney candidate Victor Ramirez working with the jails to negotiate release conditions for the women, and Capitol Heights Mayor Marnitta King personally funding hotel rooms for the three mothers who were homeless.
“I didn’t know how I was going to get out,” said Tikira, one of the women bailed out, waving a “Welcome Home, Happy Mother’s Day” poster. “I was in there max for forty days, with no water, sink was flooded, everything. I am so grateful that you all did that for us.”
Since the Mother’s Day Bailout, our organizers have continued to work with the women to help them get to appointments with social workers and healthcare providers and to make their court dates. We’re also searching for ways to keep our bailout efforts going all year round. Progressive Maryland Mass Liberation Organizer, Qiana Johnson, herself a formerly incarcerated mother, explained what motivates her efforts, “If I can help another mother be able to be with their child— if I can be the cause of another mother being with their child on Mother’s Day, that would make the two Mother’s Days that I missed with my sons even more worth it.”
Jennifer Dwyer is Policy and Legislative Director of Progressive Maryland. A Rhode Island native, Jennifer moved to Prince George’s County in 2004 to pursue a degree in Latin and Ancient Greek at the University of Maryland, College Park. In 2013, while working on her Ph.D. at Bryn Mawr College, Jennifer discovered Walmart had plans to build a 24-Hour Supercenter 150 feet behind her home in a quiet neighborhood in Bowie, Maryland. She organized her neighbors to stop the project–and they won! She joined Progressive Maryland in spring of 2016 as the Lead Organizer for Prince George’s County, and now serves as the Policy and Legislative Director working to change state and county laws to benefit everyday Marylanders.