Resisting mass incarceration by bringing Black women home for Mother's Day

This Mother's Day, activists are resisting mass incarceration by bailing out of jail as many Black women as they can. (Photo from Mama's Bail Out Day website.) 

In the United States, nearly 80 percent of incarcerated women are mothers, most of whom have been accused of only minor offenses. And Black women — the fastest growing prison demographic — are twice as likely to be jailed as their white counterparts

Many of these women have not been convicted of any crime, but — like 62 percent of people in jails nationwide — they are entrapped by a money bail system that disproportionately hurts the poor as well as people of color, who are given bail amounts that are higher than whites accused of similar offenses. Every year, Americans spend $9 billion to incarcerate people who have not been convicted of any crime but are simply too poor to make bail.

It is this system that entrapped Sandra Bland and hundreds after her who were unable to make bail and died in jail while awaiting trial for minor offenses. It is this system that was recently found unconstitutional by a federal judge in Texas and that lawmakers in several other states are working to reform.

And it is this system that the Atlanta-based LGBTQ liberation group Southerners on New Ground (SONG) is resisting as part of its struggle against mass incarceration.

For this Mother's Day, SONG has organized "Mama's Day Bail Out," a campaign to bail out as many Black women as possible in the week leading up to the May 14 holiday. The effort was envisioned by SONG Co-Director Mary Hooks and has been joined by a coalition of organizations including Black Lives Matter chapters in Memphis and Atlanta, the Dream Defenders, SisterSong, and the Texas Organizing Project, among others. Bail-out actions are set for Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee, among other states.

"In the tradition of our enslaved Black ancestors, who used their collective resources to purchase each other's freedom before slavery was abolished, until we abolish bail and mass incarceration, we're gonna free ourselves," the initiative's website says.

In Kinston, North Carolina, for instance, activists are working to secure the release of one woman — charged solely with a minor count of trespassing — who has spent three months in jail awaiting her trial because she cannot afford to post a $500 bond.

SONG organizers in Durham, North Carolina are aiming to post the bond of 10 women. In recent weeks they have been fundraising and researching the demographics of those incarcerated in the county jail so they can better understand who they will be able to help. In partnership with the Inside-Outside Alliance, which supports inmates at the Durham County Jail, SONG has been writing letters to incarcerated women to find out their specific needs.

The effort is "calling attention to a system of bail as a requirement to purchase their freedom," Serena Sebring, a Durham-based SONG organizer, told Facing South. Sebring, who is a mother herself, said she sees the action as a "spiritual calling" and is excited to see mothers reunited with their children. She has been helping to organize a homecoming celebration for the women on Mother's Day.

Beyond securing the women's release, organizers hope that they can also support them at their trial dates. It is their hope that the money raised to bail out the women on Mother's Day can also be used to secure the freedom of others in the future.

To learn more about Mama's Day Bail Out or to contribute, click here.