Fighting Mass Incarceration with a DIY Bail Fund
Two-thousand seventeen was a landmark year for bail in the United States. The founder of The Bronx Freedom Fund, which has donated bail money to New Yorkers for the last decade, announced in November the launch of the first nationwide bail fund, The Bail Project. While that news was heralded in The New York Times, a seemingly smaller but perhaps much more inspiring milestone was also reached late last year: on their own initiative, a small group of New York City-based anarchists with the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement (RAM-NYC) successfully bailed out the first person under their own community bail fund, dubbed the Revolutionary Abolitionist Liberation Fund. And while they may be overshadowed by The Bail Project, RAM-NYC’s DIY approach could prove to be a more practical way for everyday people to fight mass incarceration.
Despite operating in a city better served by bail funds than most others in the United States, RAM-NYC addresses needs that other organizations cannot. The group works with the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, which is constrained by Charitable Bail Organization Certificate rules that prevent it from assisting those charged with felonies or who require more than $2,000 in bail. Because RAM-NYC is not a charitable organization but a collection of individuals, its activities are not curtailed in the same way; cases that the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund cannot help with are referred to RAM, who contact the accused’s family to make arrangements to pay bail.
Not only is RAM-NYC able to circumvent local laws which affect official bail organizations, but their model for covering bail has the potential to spread faster than formal approaches. The Bail Fund plans to extend to three dozen cities over the next five years –still leaving most of the country uncovered. Thus, local groups interested in fighting mass incarceration would do more good organizing their own community bail funds along RAM-NYC’s lines, rather than waiting for The Bail Fund to come to their town, especially in often overlooked regions.
I spoke with RAM-NYC about the Revolutionary Abolitionist Liberation Fund and how other people across the country could replicate this effort, right in the hearts of their own communities, right now.