What Really Happens with Jail & Bail by Rebecca Lehman

“Usually only one factor determines whether a defendant stays in jail before he comes to trial. That factor is not guilt or innocence. It is not the nature of the crime. It is not the character of the defendant. That factor is, simply, money. How much money does the defendant have?”

-U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, September 2010

“Our intentions with the charity event were to raise money for [a national children’s medical philanthropy].” –Organizer of recent “Jail ‘n’ Bail” fundraiser, February 2014

In the lifetime of many college & university students, troubling changes have taken place throughout the US criminal justice system, especially troubling given our country’s consistently falling crime rates during that time.

Troubling Trends

A national trend toward incarceration caused a quadrupling of the people imprisoned in jail, state prisons, and federal prisons, from 500,000 people in 1980 to 2.3 million in 2012. When we combine this with people under parole or probation supervision, 6.94 million people are supervised by the US adult correctional system – or roughly 1 in 35 US adults. Roughly a third of these people are being detained in local jails. (Bureau of Justice Statistics)

People in jail may be there due to a sentence, but more likely they are being held there before going to trial for the crime(s) of which they are accused.  Since 1996, the number of people held in jail waiting trail has grown at a much faster pace than the number of people there due to sentencing.  By 2006, the proportion of people in jail pretrial increased from half of the jail population to 61%. (Pretrial Justice Institute)

Once in jail on charges, there are options for release while awaiting trial: money/commercial bail, release on own recognizance, and release to a supervised program.  Since the 1990s, the assignment of money bail has increased (PJI) at the same time that the average bail amount has increased by $30,000 (Justice Policy Institute).

Under the current system “bail punishes the poor because they cannot afford to buy their pretrial freedom,” according to Jamie Fellner, Senior Counsel with the US Program at Human Rights Watch. “For people scrambling to pay the rent each month, finding $1,000 for bail can be as impossible as finding $1,000,000.”

Impact of Money Bail

I think it’s worth pausing to remember that a person in jail on charges waiting trial is, in our justice tradition, supposed to be considered innocent until they are proven guilty in fair court proceedings.

When not able to raise the funds for bail, people in jail awaiting trial to defend themselves may lose their job or have their business fail, may lose their home or apartment, may lose their car, may have their children’s lives disrupted as they’re moved to temporary housing, and may experience a disruption in needed medical care. In the criminal justice system, the impact of people in jail pretrial for not being able to pay bail contributes to overcrowding and unsustainable budgets. (Justice Policy Institute)

A clear racial disparity has been found in the pretrial process, the impact of which has a ripple effect contributing to racial disparities throughout the prison industrial complex.  Black and African American defendants are less likely to be released on their own recognizance than white defendants; African American defendants ages 18-29 receive significantly higher bail amounts than all other types of defendants (JPI). A 2012 study out of Yale University identified that unconscious bias on the part of judicial officials demonstrate that we value the freedom of white defendants $60-$80 more per day than black defendants.

A wealth of research highlights the interaction of race, age, gender, and socioeconomic status directly impact pretrial decisions around release and bail. Over fifty years of research has consistently shown that being detained pretrial – including being detained simply for not having the money for bail – greatly increases the likelihood to plea bargain guilty, to be convicted, to receive a prison sentence, and to receive harsher prison sentences.  All of these hold true when controlling for factors such as the current charge, prior criminal history, and ties to the community. (Pretrial Justice Institute)

Simply put, not having the money to pay bail means you’re more likely to be imprisoned and for a longer time.

A Failing System

One great concern is that money bail hasn’t been effectively demonstrated to maintain public safety or increases the rate at which defendants successfully make court appearances (JPI). In his 2013 State of the Judiciary address, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said the current NY system “makes no sense and certainly does not serve the best interests of our communities and our citizens.”  (New York Times)

Judge Lippman also stated it “strips our justice system of its credibility.” Indeed, many argue that the demonstrated negative affect of wealth disparity on judicial outcomes violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment:  Charged with the same crime, a person with the expendable income to pay money bail has greatly better process through and outcome from their charges.  Summarized by the Justice Policy Institute, “for all intents and purposes, those held in jail are set up to fail, even if they are innocent of the charge.”

This is why there has been another important trend in the lifetimes of current traditional-aged college students: Since the 1990s, there has been a growing body of research and formal reports supporting the elimination of current money bail practices.

“Jail ‘n’ Bail” or “Luxury Lock-Up”

As a white, cis female, middle-class, person from a family with university education, I’m the beneficiary of this inequitable system.  As it becomes increasingly hard to get into the university at which I work, my community is becoming more and more removed from the negative aspects of the criminal justice system and prison industrial complex.  This happens even though we are located in a state with an above-national-average rates of nonviolent crime and correctional supervision (National Institute of Corrections).

So, as I encounter Jail ‘n’ Bail fundraisers on campus, I have reason to doubt that the organizers or the participants are thinking about the issues I described above.

We’re also likely not thinking about the over 20,000 adults in our state currently in jail, 2/3 of whom are awaiting trial to defend themselves.

One in 25 adults in our state is under correctional supervision.  Those on parole often need to find employment or enter school as conditions to stay out of prison. We’re likely not thinking about how these people are our classmates and colleagues and the people they love.

I can stand in a homemade cage asking people to give me “bail money” thinking only of my intent to raise money for an organization I value. That same action, though, trivializes the very real injustices people are facing through the bail system, the socioeconomic and race inequalities within it, and the past traumas I’m bringing up in people walking by trying to go about a school- or work-day.

Making a Change

I think that the common fundraising practice of “Jail ‘n’ Bail” is well-intended but misguided and, more important, not aligned with the values of institutions committed to inclusion, equality, and equity.

Previously, institutions have identified and addressed issues of race, gender, and safety in “date auction” fundraisers.  A growing number of higher education institutions are educating about these to discourage or eliminate “date auctions” on their campus.

On my campus, a growing number of students and staff are coming together to similarly educate about the issues in “jail ‘n’ bail.” I’m thankfully connecting in with colleagues around the country who are doing the same and learning about the inspiring work of activists working to fix the systemic problems described above.

Doing so has a great side effect. In minimizing insensitive and retraumatizing practices, organizers can be more successful at their true intention: Raising money to support causes they care about.

Rebecca Lehman is Program Coordinator for the University of Cincinnati Racial Awareness Program.  This programming area within the UC Office of Student Activities & Leadership Development provides social justice education, inclusive leadership development, and nonviolent activism training to the campus and community.

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What’s Next? Navigating Student Affairs Career Pathways as a Social Justice Educator By Dr. Andrea Dre Domingue

The 2014 ACPA Convention was a highly reflective moment for me personally and professionally. This year marks the 10 year anniversary of my work in student affairs and my involvement in professional associations. I had the opportunity to informally celebrate this milestone by attending the ACPA Convention in Indianapolis. It was a bit surreal running into colleagues and friends from various points in my career and academic work. I remember my first convention in Philadelphia where I attended with my masters cohort, overwhelmed yet highly motivated to begin our careers. Ten years later, attending Convention still felt overwhelming but in a different way. This year I attended as recently defended doctoral candidate who was navigating a mid-level position job search.

As friends and colleagues were eager to call me “Doctor”including the long awaited nickname “Dr. Dre,”I was bombarded with questions of “what’s next?”in my career, how the job search was going and inquiries about what I was looking for in a position. While I offered somewhat rehearsed and often vague answers, the honest truth is I felt confused and a bit stuck in determining my next career steps. While I have always been certain in my desire to work in student affairs, particularly supporting marginalized student identity groups, it has only been recently that I started a trajectory as a social justice educator[1].

As a masters student I recall conversations with faculty and colleagues about various student affairs functional areas to consider. None of these talks mentioned social justice education and the closest recollection I have was a discussion about the possibility of working within a multicultural office. While I did not yet have a social justice framework, I was still able to identify how “multicultural[2]”was being used synonymous with “diversity”broadly to capture a variety of social issues and sometimes exclusively for direct support services for students of color. Nowhere in these conversations were mentions of work with other marginalized identities, intersectionality, or social change.

Despite these limited conversations, I did have a unique opportunity of working as a graduate assistant for an LGBT student services office while pursuing my masters degree. This position expanded my understanding of what was possible for “diversity” work and also turned into my first full-time position. While this was an exciting opportunity, I soon faced unforeseen career challenges. At the time of my hiring, the option for LGBT student services was a range of working as an one-person staffed office often times in areas of institutional or geographical resistance or work as what we affectionately called an LGBT2. These positions were rare and almost exclusive to large campuses with offices that had demonstrated longevity and therefore a needs for additional staff support. While these positions offered employment opportunities for recently graduated masters students like myself, there was little room for growth and advancement.

In my five years in LGBT student services, few director positions opened. One reason for this is that directors themselves had challenges advancing beyond this position. I recall several conversations with colleagues who talked about how difficult it was for them to convince search committees that they were capable doing work beyond LGBT student services. In the event director positions did open, these searches fostered high competition from existing directors looking to change campuses, professionals with doctorates and other LGBT2 looking to advance their career. Through this landscape I was faced with a difficult choice: continuing to work as an LGBT2 in the hopes of obtaining a director position in an uncertain time length or pursue a doctorate degree to enhance my qualifications for director positions.

I made the choice to get a doctorate, specifically in Social Justice Education, which in reflection I feel was the right personal decision for me as a student affairs practitioner and emerging scholar. In addition to learning frameworks and skills centered on social justice, my most noteworthy takeaway from my program was developing an identity as a social justice educator with a desire to have an intentional trajectory for this work within student affairs. While I have clarity about the direction of my career, I feel as if I am yet again receiving messages about limited career options and virtually no dialogues on how to pursue social justice education as a career pathway at the mid-level and as a senior student affairs officer.

In addition to my own journey, I have had numerous conversations with undergraduates, graduate students and new professionals also struggling to navigate a pathway into social justice education in student affairs. While at the 2014 Convention I had the opportunity to participate in a NextGen networking session. The goal of this event was to have undergraduate students interested in pursuing careers in students affairs to dialogue with various ACPA Commissions and Standing Committees about our work in the entities and how it relates to the core values of the association. Representing the Commission for Social Justice Educators, I had what I feel was a mutually impactful conversation with an undergraduate student interested in entering multicultural affairs work and wanted insights on which graduate programs that would support his goals.

Through dialogue and questioning, I discovered an incongruence in the work this student aspired to do and what he was encouraged to do. Similar to my experience as a masters student, this student was told his only option was to pursue careers working in multicultural affairs while he is interested in supporting a variety of marginalized student populations, fostering cross-identity work and institutional change. While I was able to offer this student some guidance and am in ongoing conversation with him, I have been in constant reflection on professional preparation and career pathways as social justice educators in student affairs. I feel that it is vital for our existing and emerging professionals to identify and concretely strategize specific career pathways for social justice educators in student affairs.

As the incoming Chair-Elect for the Commission for Social Justice Educators I facilitated a conversation at our recent Directorate Body meeting at this year’s Convention 2014 on the issues raised in this article. Specifically there was energy around creating dialogic spaces and programming to address entry and transitions of social justice educators within student affairs careers. On behalf of the Commission we want to invite you to consider and share your thoughts on the following questions:

  • What has your experience been navigating student affairs positions as a social justice educator?
  • How should we prepare graduate students and new professionals for social justice educator positions (i.e., academic programs, supervision, professional associations, etc.)?
  • How should we prepare social justice educator professionals for mid-level and senior student affairs officer positions (i.e., academic programs, supervision, professional associations, etc.)?
  • What support do professionals interested in social justice educator positions need throughout the the job search?
  • How do you as a social justice educator assess position and campus “fit”? What strategies do you use to determine if your social justice values and practices are congruent with the positions and institutions you seek employment with?
  • How do you reconcile incongruence with “fit”? What personal or professional negotiations do you make in this situations?

To participate in the dialogue, I invited you to comment and share this article. We also encourage you to share your experiences by completing an anonymous questionnaire (https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1FGvWKtNHH7c9F-zdsUZhBCNpAHIl156Q299Xv1MPpEk/viewform).

[1] My personal understanding of social justice education practice involves identifying and addressing systematic oppression on campus, intersectionality through recognition of multiple student identities and cross-group experiences, and developing critical consciousness and leadership development among students to enhance campus communities and beyond. I recognize that other educators may have different perspectives on understanding and in no way is this meant to be an exhaustive explanation.
[2] I feel the terms social justice, diversity, and multicultural are terms that have relationship to each other but with distinct meanings, particularly within educational context. Feel free to contact me for more clarity.


Dr. Andrea Dre Domingue is scholar-practitioner that focuses on minoritized college student advocacy, critical pedagogy and college student leadership development. She works at the University of Massachusetts—Amherst where as an instructor for the College of Education. Dre recently completed her doctorate in Student Development with a concentration Social Justice Education and Advanced Feminist Studies. Prior to her time at UMass, she worked at NYU’s LGBT Student Services Office where she also received her MA in Higher Education Administration. A long-term member of several professional associations, Dre is the incoming Chair-Elect for ACPA’s Commission for Social Justice Educators. Follow her on Twitter: @dredomingue where she sporadically tweets or email her directly at dre[dot]domingue[at]gmail.com.


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