The Scale of the Problem
Each year, an estimated 2.5 million legally presumed innocent people sit in jail while awaiting trial because they cannot afford their cash bail. On average, these individuals are age 35 or younger with salaries under $15,000, the majority have children under 18, and they are disproportionately from communities of color. Pretrial detention in jail exposes people to violence and may jeopardize their mental and physical health, housing, employment, access to public benefits, and custody of their children. These risks compound the pressure they face to plead guilty in exchange for release, resulting in a criminal record that has long-term consequences.
A Promising Solution
The Bail Project works in close collaboration with public defender offices and local nonprofits to identify people in pretrial detention because they cannot afford their cash bail. Their community-based teams of client advocates known as Bail Disruptors interview clients, determine eligibility based on a person’s history of court appearances and bail amount, and provide pretrial support after release in the form of court notifications, referrals to voluntary social services and transportation assistance as needed. Once each case is complete, bail money returns to the fund so it can be used to help prevent others from experiencing life-altering effects—both short-term and long-term—of prolonged detention in jail. Through these efforts, The Bail Project seeks to steer entire jurisdictions away from cash bail and towards a more just and equitable system where bailouts are no longer needed.
Pretrial detention accounts for all jail growth in the US in the past 20 years and costs society $20 billion annually. Individuals sitting in jail while awaiting trial face immediate risks such as violence or economic and personal destabilization, including losing employment, immigration status, or custody of their children. They often face pressure to plead guilty in order to return home, resulting in criminal records that follow them for the rest of their lives. Unaffordable cash bail affects those from low-income communities—particularly people of color—at a disproportionate rate, perpetuating poverty and racial inequality.
Individuals held in jail before trial are 30% more likely to plead guilty to the offense of which they have been accused
Black and Hispanic individuals account for more than 50 percent of the US pretrial population, and up to 90 percent in some jurisdictions
Women are the fastest-growing incarcerated population in America, and nearly 25% of them are in pretrial detention
The Bail Project efforts are led by Bail Disruptors who work in local jurisdictions to identify low-income individuals who are legally presumed innocent, and whom a judge has deemed eligible for release from jail before trial contingent on paying bail. They then pay their bail using a national revolving fund and provide support during the legal process. This model was first launched in The Bronx, New York where it showed promising results, demonstrating the proof of concept for The Bail Project. Data from the pilot showed that an overwhelming majority of clients attended court appearances and left without a criminal conviction:
More than 95% of clients attend all court hearings, 25% percent higher than The Bronx average
90% of cases close without a criminal conviction
Less than 2% received a jail sentence
Blue Meridian's Investment
Our investment supports The Bail Project’s ambitious five-year Scaling Plan, during which they will provide immediate relief on an unprecedented scale by directly serving more than 100,000 low-income individuals in 25 sites across the US – while demonstrating the effectiveness of its model and laying the groundwork for a new normal in the pretrial system so that bailouts are no longer needed.
$37.5 Million over five years
Grow from 11 to 25 sites across the nation
Cumulatively serve more than 100,000 clients across all sites
Why We Are Excited About The Bail Project
Every organization in our investment portfolio is ready to embark on significant scaling and displays a multitude of strengths. Here are some highlights of the tremendous potential we saw in The Bail Project's scaling strategy that motivated us to invest:
Momentum for Bail Reform
The desire for bail reform is increasing, illustrated by an increasing number of important state and local reform efforts across the country. While no single strategy can reform the entire pretrial system, we are confident The Bail Project is well positioned to capitalize on growing public awareness and demand for reform, both on its own and as a complement to other critical efforts in the field.
As a large-scale, national intervention, The Bail Project offers a compelling, actionable way to solve the problem of unaffordable cash bail for thousands of low-income people immediately, while their work to demonstrate that community release with support is the most viable and cost-effective alternative to unaffordable cash bail can help advance other efforts in the field. By establishing strong proof points for its model in diverse jurisdictions across the country, The Bail Project can influence decision makers to drive systemic change away from unaffordable cash bail, risk assessments and electronic monitoring, and toward investment in voluntary supports and community-based solutions that improve the lives of millions of people each year.
Robin Steinberg is a visionary leader in the criminal justice field whose personal experience as a defense attorney drives her passion for reform. From her first day in Manhattan Criminal Court, Steinberg was determined to defend the legal rights and dignity of those affected by mass incarceration. After co-founding The Bronx Defenders—a community-based public defender office in the South Bronx— in 1997, Steinberg noted common themes when speaking to her clients: they were concerned about losing their homes, their jobs, their public benefits—and worst of all, their children, while sitting in jail, awaiting trial.
In response, she co-founded The Bronx Freedom Fund in 2007 and The Bail Project in 2017. Steinberg’s dynamic leadership and decades of on-the-ground work have steered the organization to early success. Her deep dedication to bail reform is matched by that of her passionate and diverse team, which includes local advocates and leaders who have experienced firsthand the devastating consequences of incarceration and felt its impact on their families and communities.
A Strong Foundation for Success
The Bail Project builds upon long-running work in the Bronx. The Bronx Freedom Fund, co-founded by The Bail Project leadership, has established strong, measurable results, and was critical to the success of The Bail Project’s early scaling efforts. Since 2015, the Bronx Freedom Fund has achieved a 96% court appearance rate, 25% higher than the Bronx average. While 92% of non-felony defendants detained before trial in New York City are convicted—primarily because of guilty pleas—only about 10% of Bronx Freedom Fund clients have been convicted. Instead, the majority of their cases have been dismissed, or reduced to violations that carry no criminal record. We estimate that The Bail Project has averted ~100,000 jail-days through its work in the Bronx, and based on this strong track record, they are currently expanding to areas of diverse geographical, demographic and political representation. We firmly believe The Bail Project is poised to make a national, lasting impact on bail reform and the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the country.
About The Bail Project
The Bail Project is the first national revolving bail fund in the US. Its passionate team of Bail Disruptors works on a local level to identify low-income individuals who cannot afford to pay bail. The Bail Project secures their release, enabling them to return home to their families and communities while awaiting their court dates. Local Bail Disruptors support clients and guide them through the legal process to ensure they appear in court. After the client appears, bail is repaid, allowing The Bail Project to recycle funds to help another person in need. In addition to providing immediate relief on an unprecedented scale, The Bail Project aims to drive a longer-term systemic shift away from both bail and other burdensome alternatives, revolutionizing the pretrial system.
Chief Executive Officer
Robin Steinberg, CEO of The Bail Project, is a pioneer in the field of holistic, client-centered public defense. In her decades of experience as a public defender, she has led and grown several high-impact organizations. Steinberg founded The Bronx Defenders and pioneered an innovative, “holistic” model of public defense proven to reduce incarceration rates, shorten sentence lengths, and save taxpayer dollars. In addition to her work for The Bail Project, Steinberg also spearheaded the Center for Holistic Defense, founded Still She Rises in Tulsa, OK, and co-founded the Bronx Freedom Fund.
News About The Bail Project
Mar 5, 2020
Two Cleveland ‘Bail Disruptors’ Are Putting up Money to Free People Awaiting Trial, While Working to Reform the System
SCENE reports on how The Bail Project team works to bail out...
Nov 19, 2019
Who Makes Money From Bail?
CNBC reports on injustice in the US bail system.
Aug 13, 2019
How Cash Bail Hurts Poor Women—and What We Can Do About It
The Bail Project's CEO, Robin Steinberg, explains how the cash bail system...