Brooklyn Community Bail Fund — National Bail Fund Network (2018)

Grant investigator: Chloe Cockburn

This page was reviewed but not written by the grant investigator. BCBF staff also reviewed this page prior to publication.

The Open Philanthropy Project recommended a grant of $100,000 to the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund (BCBF) to support its National Bail Fund Network, led by Pilar Weiss. The funds will support a pilot project exploring a partnership between bail funds and participatory defense, two emerging models we believe could lead to high community engagement in justice system processes. In addition to this grant, we also recommended a grant to Silicon Valley De-Bug, which will be collaborating with BCBF on this project.

This is a discretionary grant, and falls within our focus area of criminal justice reform.

Brooklyn Community Bail Fund — National Bail Fund Network

Grant investigator: Chloe Cockburn

This page was reviewed but not written by the grant investigator. Brooklyn Community Bail Fund staff also reviewed this page prior to publication.

The Open Philanthropy Project recommended a grant of $404,800 to the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund (BCBF) to support its National Bail Fund Network, led by Pilar Weiss. The Network is comprised of bail funds around the country—including immigration and movement-oriented funds as well as more traditional community-based funds engaging with local criminal justice systems—which pay bail for defendants who cannot otherwise afford to pay bail. On average, 60% of people sitting in jails, sometimes for weeks and months at a time, have not yet been convicted of a crime, and many are there largely because they cannot afford to pay bail.1 Bail fund interventions allow defendants to return home rather than going to jail while awaiting trial, removing the pressure for defendants to plead guilty just to get out of jail, thereby reducing the number of guilty pleas and staving off other harms caused by pre-trial detention.

Our Program Officer for Criminal Justice Reform, Chloe Cockburn, believes that organizing and advocacy in partnership with bail funds can help increase media attention and shift public support in favor of needed policy reforms, as well as put pressure on local systems to change practices. She does not endorse the idea of bail funds as being institutionalized as an alternative to current criminal justice system practices, but rather as a useful tactical device that can assist campaigns while also reducing the number of people sitting in jails prior to their convictions.

We previously supported BCBF with a grant in 2016, and were pleased with achievements over the last year including: the launch of six bail funds; hosting a national convening; and supporting the “Mama’s Bail Out Day” campaign, which was produced by a broad coalition of organizations who worked together to bail over 100 mothers out of jail. BCBF served as a fiscal sponsor and provided other strategic and administrative support for organizations involved with the campaign, which raised more than $1,000,000 from the public through crowdfunding activities.

BCBF plans to use our renewal funding to support the following goals:

  • Continue to develop the National Bail Fund Network as a useful and energetic networking and strategic planning space.
  • Support creative and impactful tactical bail out interventions.
  • Produce and disseminate analysis on community bail funds and bail out actions.
  • Launch new community justice pilots with members of the National Bail Fund Network.
  • Provide technical assistance, strategic planning, and fundraising support for new and emerging bail funds.
  • Serve as connector across the bail reform organizing space.

This is a discretionary grant, and falls within our focus area of criminal justice reform.

Sources

DOCUMENT SOURCE
NY Times, The Bail Trap, 2015 Source (archive)

Brooklyn Community Bail Fund — General Support

Brooklyn Community Bail Fund staff reviewed this page prior to publication.


The Open Philanthropy Project recommended $404,800 to the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund (BCBF) for general support.

We have identified bail reform as a highly impactful area of policy change that we believe could substantially reduce incarceration in numerous jurisdictions around the country. The bail reform landscape includes litigation, advocacy, communications, technical assistance for governmental actors, and bail funds, among other things. This grant pertains to the category of bail funds.

BCBF, which began operations in 2015 in Brooklyn, NY, pays bail amounts of $2,000 or less for misdemeanor defendants who cannot otherwise afford to pay bail. This approach allows defendants to return home rather than going to jail while awaiting trial, and is intended to avoid coerced guilty pleas and other harms caused by pre-trial detention. In addition to its local work, BCBF provides strategic and technical assistance to a broad range of organizations considering establishing bail funds in other jurisdictions. There are about a dozen bail funds operating around the country now and many new ones are starting to emerge.

With this grant, we are supporting BCBF to:

  • Organize existing bail funds around the country into a national network and support that network with coordination staffing. The network will allow bail funds across different cities throughout the U.S. to develop shared data and process standards for bail funds, coordinate local advocacy, and act as a coordinated voice about how bail funds can work most effectively towards broader systems change.
  • Develop a plan for strategic bail fund expansion connected to advocacy around reducing incarceration.

We do not plan to write in more detail about this grant at this time.