The Tucson Second Chance Community Bail Fund (TSCCBF) was established to address the disproportionate impact of the cash bail system on communities of color and vulnerable populations here in Pima County. This effort is an outgrowth of Black Lives Matter (BLM) Tucson’s May 2017 “Mama Bailout Campaign.” That campaign raised money to free mothers in jail as part of a national effort by BLM to raise awareness about the inequities and immorality of using cash bonds to secure the court appearance of defendants. The “Mama Bailout Campaign” was a success, and it helped illuminate the persistent and ongoing need for continued cash bail assistance initiatives here in Pima County. As a result, the Second Chance Bail Fund Coalition (made up of local lawyers, activists, and concerned citizens) was created to manage and facilitate the creation of TSCCBF, in an effort to help end the criminalization of poverty in Tucson.
Key Principles for Community Bail & Bond Funds
There is no single right way for a community bail or bond fund to operate. For decades, bail and bond funds have taken on different forms as communities came together to get people back to their families and communities and restore the presumption of innocence. More recently, community bail and bond funds have developed a more explicit analysis about their role in ending the money bail and pretrial detention systems while continuing their day-to-day harm reduction work. Community bond funds paying immigration bonds are reuniniting families and communities while also fighting the unjust immigration detention system.
Work to end money bail and pretrial detention looks different in jurisdictions across the country, despite having many commonalities. In order to identify core areas of alignment for community bail and bond funds, we’ve drafted the following seven core principles.
Many of the principles in this document speak specifically to community bail and bond funds that pay bail and bond within the criminal legal system. There are also community bond funds that pay immigration bond to free people from federal immigration detention. Criminal bail and bond funds and immigration bond funds have many similarities and increasingly work together to fight mass incarceration, which uses both the criminal and immigration systems to cage people and separate families and communities. The following principles apply to both kinds of funds in their core founding principles, while recognizing that there are differences between criminal bail and bond and immigration bond funds’ connection to larger campaigns to end money bail and pretrial detention.
We believe that the work of community bail and bond funds should:
1. Be committed to a goal of ending money bail and pretrial detention, with a clear focus on decarceration and confronting current racial disparities.
Different jurisdictions are in different phases of ending money bail, so what campaigns look like place to place may be different (examples include: jail closures, policy changes, and enforcement of system changes). We belive that bail and bond funds should be connected to jail/prison abolition work broadly as well as to specific local campaigns to end money bail (in the criminal context) and pretrial detention (in both criminal and immigration contexts).
2. Be accountable to impacted communities.
To be positioned as a community-based bail or bond fund, we believe that there must be clarity and transparency about the role community plays, what accountability looks like, and how directly impacted communities and formerly and currently incarcerated individuals’ voices are represented.
3. Be in collaboration with larger movement work against mass criminalization and incarceration.
Although the direct focus of a bail or bond fund may be ending money bail and pretrial detention, we believe that bail and bond funds should be clear about how their work relates to the movement to end mass criminalization and incarceration in general.
4. Have criteria that reflect the fund’s goals and do not perpetuate dichotomies around who is deserving versus undeserving, whether based on type of charge or other factors that reinforce biases within the system and pit those targeted by the system against one another.
We believe that bail and bond funds should be clear about the basis of their payment criteria as well as who established the criteria. This requires transparency around how the criteria will avoid perpetuating good/bad or deserving/undeserving dichotomies and how it is tied to clear and accountable goals. We also believe it is important that funds are clear about whether funders or other system actors are playing a role in setting a bail or bond fund’s criteria.
5. Have an analysis about how to address the needs of individuals for support services beyond payment of bail or bond.
Paying bail or bond cannot be a completely discrete action. We believe that bail and bond funds must develop clarity around how they will confront additional issues beyond bail payment that will influence pretrial freedom, e.g. the payment of fines, fees, restitution and connections to support services and community-based resources. We believe that bail and bond funds should position their work within the larger conversation about building new community-based solutions outside of the criminal legal and immigration detention systems.
6. Have clarity about their position within the system they are trying to dismantle.
Bail and bond funds often end up having to coordinate with the same system they are trying to dismantle as they pay bail or bond to free individuals. We believe that funds should develop an analysis on how they will navigate this and, specifically, where their limits are (e.g. will bail and bond funds accept different treatment than individuals in the system to facilitate their operations). In jurisdictions where the system itself wants to provide funding or operate its own bail or bond fund, we think it is critical to have an analysis of where the levers of power and change exist.
7. Be clear about the role of funding sources and funding models in their decision-making processes.
The funding that is raised to operate a community bail or bond fund often raises a number of issues. In addition to questions around determining criteria (discussed above), we believe that bail and bond funds should be clear about the role of funding sources in other parts of their operations and decision-making. We believe that funding sources and models that place too much emphasis on unrealistic or idealized revolving rates will impact who bail and bond funds pay for (including whether additional fees/penalities that affect freedom can be addressed) and how their work will connect with campaigns to end mass incarceration.
 We are working to establish additional core principles specific to the larger work to end immigration detention.
 By “criteria,” we mean the selection criteria through which funds choose which people they pay bail or bond for.