Brooklyn Community Bail Fund works alongside impacted communities to dismantle the oppressive and interconnected criminal legal and immigration systems. With freedom as our guiding principle, we invest in innovative campaigns and programs that aim to win long-term, transformative change, while meeting the urgent needs of community members in the present.
Our work has always coupled a necessary intervention – freeing people from detention today – with advocacy and public education to achieve radical systems change – freedom for all people.
Since 2015 the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund has been at the forefront of the fight to end money bail and pretrial detention. Initially paying bail just in Brooklyn, we expanded to serve individuals across New York City, becoming the largest community bail fund in the country. In less than five years we freed nearly 5,000 people from jail, sparing them from the devastating consequences of pretrial detention and reuniting them with their families and communities so they could fight their cases from a position of freedom. The monetary cost of this ransom was nearly $5 million, which restored 750 years of pretrial freedom to our neighbors and community members. Because of our commitment to the humanity of the individuals we serve, we instituted a support program to help meet their self-identified needs, which has become a model for others across the country.
Based on what we saw everyday in courts and jails, BCBF became a leading voice in the movement to end money bail and pretrial detention in New York. While these were our ultimate goals, we engaged in other measures that would decrease the harm inflicted by carceral systems and minimize the state’s ability to inflict it: we fought to remove barriers to bail payment for families; we armed New Yorkers with crucial Know Your Rights information; and led a campaign against predatory bondsmen.
BCBF has a long history of strategic innovation and evolution. Observing the emergence of bail funds across the country, we envisioned a hub for funds to learn, grow, and make a collective impact. In 2016 we launched the National Bail Fund Network, which remained at BCBF until it’s spinoff in 2018. During this period, we provided crucial operational and fiscal support to national bailouts. In 2018, with our partners VOCAL-NY and Five Boro Defenders, we co-launched Court Watch NYC, a volunteer-powered program that harnesses the power of New Yorkers to organize for transformative change of the criminal legal system. At the end of 2019, Court Watch NYC became a full fledged program of BCBF.
In response to intensifying ICE raids and enforcement of immigration laws, in 2018 we began paying immigration bond. We know that freeing someone is an act of resistance against the criminal legal and immigration systems—intertwined systems of punishment that feed off each other to target and control low-income communities of color. Since then, we’ve spent over $5 million to free nearly 600 of our immigrant neighbors. Just like our work paying bail, we harness our results and on-the-ground experiences to demonstrate that immigration bond and detention harm, rather than protect, our communities.
During uprisings following the murder of George Floyd in Spring 2020, BCBF received an outpouring of unsolicited financial support. We understand that supporting Black-led social change is foundational to addressing the systemic inequality driving nationwide uprisings against police violence and systemic racism. Because true social change requires leadership of directly impacted communities, supporting these groups is more than just aligned with BCBF’s mission and values, it is required by it. Recognizing the historic nature of this moment, BCBF distributed $4.6 million. $2.3 million went to support bail for demonstrators where most needed across the country. An additional $2.3 million was allocated to support Black-led collectives, organizations, and organizers in New York State working to mobilize communities around police brutality, incarceration, and other injustices.
For years we leveraged our work as a bail fund and joined with organizations, advocates, and directly impacted people pushing for legislative reform to end money bail in New York State. In 2019, laws were passed that significantly reduced the pretrial population across the state. However, the fight to abolish money bail and pretrial detention is far from over. Remaining vigilant to achieving this ultimate goal, at the end of 2019 BCBF ceased operating as a bail fund in the criminal legal space. Our focus on radical systems change requires more than just expanding our programs, it entails ceasing interventions that no longer align with our mission, vision and values. This decision – made in consultation with our partners and directly impacted communities – is consistent with our commitment to engaging innovative strategies that meet the needs of the moment.
Going forward, we will continue to work alongside BIPOC, immigrant and LGBTQ communities, directly impacted individuals, and allies to:
- End pretrial and immigrant detention
- Hold prosecutors, judges and law enforcement agencies, including ICE, accountable for egregious policies
- Meet the urgent, material needs of community members caged by the criminal legal system and immigration enforcement regime.
- Use cutting-edge approaches to free as many people as possible