This Mother's Day, dozens of black-led activist organizations are uniting families separated by the United States prison system by posting bail for incarcerated bail-eligible mothers. This movement has been making waves online through the Twitter hashtag "Free Black Mamas," which directs users to the many different groups that are accepting public donations for the cause. So far, at least 30 women are expected to return home to celebrate Mother's Day weekend with their families as a result of these charitable efforts.
Through the "Free Black Mamas" movement, more than $250,000 has already been raised to go towards the release of women of color who have been imprisoned while awaiting trial. The apex of these money-raising efforts, which began coming together months ago, manifests through a mama-liberating weekend which the organizing groups have dubbed "National Mama's Bail Out Day."
While critics of the philanthropic event have condemned it in its alleviation of punishment for alleged criminals, organizers and supporters have been quick to come to its defense through cautious methodology. According to a report from The Nation, the incarcerated women who will see release through the event are among the 62 percent of people who are currently being kept in jail not because they have been convicted of a crime but simply due to the fact that they cannot afford to post bail.
In addition to the women having yet to actually be convicted of any crimes, supporters also cite the fact that many of them are awaiting trial for relatively minor offences, such as loitering or possession of small amounts of drugs (with no evidentiary intent to sell), as a means of soothing the doubts of those concerned with the event's beneficiaries.
Why "black mamas" specifically? The focus on women of color is not solely a result of the predispositions of advocates for racial equality but instead serves as a reflection of the statistics which disproportionately leave minority groups at a disadvantage within the United States criminal justice system. For example, while a whopping one-third of incarcerated women display signs of having serious mental health issues, an even more shocking statistics cites that 44 percent of all women in jail are black women. The groups making efforts to liberate and actively support black mamas have motives not only based on personal empathy, but also in statistical demand.
The original idea for the philanthropic efforts of National Mama's Bail Out Day came months ago via a meeting held by representatives from dozens of black-led organizations who sought a way to take collaborative action towards criminal justice reform, an issue that has become quite the hot-button topic in recent political conversations.
Though the meeting took place in January (where the event was then scheduled to center around Mother's Day) it comes with coincidentally precise-seeming timing thanks to the recent actions of United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In a public statement issued just days ago, Sessions directed American prosecutors to seek the maximum punishment possible for anyone convicted of a drug-related crime.
Though this may initially seem unrelated to the causes of advocates for racial equality, it may actually constitute one of the largest ones. Critics of Sessions' statements have since pointed to the rollback of Obama-era relaxations of policies such as mandatory minimums as a regressive step in criminal justice reform.
The groups behind events like National Mama's Bail Out Day are hoping to fight back by reuniting families this Mother's Day.
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