Bail Funds 101: a guide to bail fund organizations and how you can help them

Monzerrath Ortiz

Following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, people began protesting across the country. 


More than 10,000 protesters have been arrested nationwide, according to the Associated Press.


Many of these people needed to be bail, an amount of money that the individual must pay the court to secure their release until their trial date. Many of these people didn't have bail money, or couldn't call someone who had enough money to bail them out. 

Low-income individuals - especially minorities - often find themselves in this situation. That's why many organizations have created bail funds, a pot of money to get people who are sitting in jails, awaiting trial, because they cannot afford to pay bail.


Many bail fund organizations, such as the Chicago Community Bond Fund, are also advocating criminal justice and bail system reform at a local, state, and/or national level.


How do bail funds work?

When people are arrested for a felony or misdemeanor, they must appear at a court, where a judge will decide whether or not the arrested individual should remain in jail or be released while their trial is pending.


People who can pay bail are released. Those who cannot remain incarcerated - sometimes for months or even years.


According to the Prison Policy Initiative, over 550,000 people are detained in jail without having been convicted or sentenced because they do not have the funds to secure their release.


This statistic was published in March. Given the recent wave of arrests being made at protests, it’s safe to assume that number has rapidly increased.


If the recipients of bail funds are present at each of their court dates, the bail money is returned to the bail fund organization. They can then reuse the money to free other people. 


Bail funds make it possible for individuals to be released without any financial obligations, such as those that are attached to bail bond services. 

What is a bail bond service? 

Often, when an arrested individual does not have enough money to pay their bail, they turn to a bond company. These companies put up the bail money, and promise the judge that the defandant will return to court.  The defendant must pay the bond company about ten percent of the bail. However, unlike bail, that ten percent is not refundable. That's how bail bond companies make a profit. But that also means the defendant has even less money on hand to pay for a lawyer. 


Why are bail funds important?

Bail fund organizations are crucial to the freedom of the thousands upon thousands of individuals that remain incarcerated due to a lack of ability to pay bail.


Bail funds can have a significant impact on the case results of recipients.


The Brooklyn Bail Fund, for example, found that their “clients are three times as likely to have their cases dismissed or resolved favorably compared with similarly situated individuals detained pretrial on low amounts of bail.”


Bail funds are revolving, meaning they can be allocated again to help free those that remain incarcerated due to financial obstacles.


What issues are bail funds solving?

Bail funds are important because they are tackling the racial and economic disparities in the bail system by actively working to influence and shape legislation that aims to reform the bail system. Many bail fund organizations seek to take a step further by advocating putting an end to money bail altogether.


Organizations such as The Bail Project are fighting mass incarceration and working to  end the injustices that are perpetuated by the money bail system - a system that reflects just one of the many barriers to justice faced by Black people and people of color at disproportionate rates across the country.


Where can I donate to bail funds?

There are thousands of bail fund organizations across the United States in need of funding. Here are a few:


The Bail Project 
Upon donating to the Bail Project, 100% of your donation will be used to help get people home.

Donate here.

Emergency Release Fund

The Emergency Release Fund is collecting donations to provide bail for pretrial medically vulnerable individuals and anyone who identifies as LGBTQ.

This fund also allows people to request bail funds to ensure that their transgender loved ones can be released from prison.

Donate here.



When you donate through ActBlue, you can split your donation to 11 different bail funds operating in different parts of the U.S:

  • Brooklyn Community Bail Fund
  • Louisville Community Bail Fund
  • The Bail Project
  • Chicago Community Bond Fund
  • Massachusetts Bail Fund
  • Northwest Community Bail Fund
  • Restoring Justice (Houston)
  • Philadelphia Bail Fund
  • National Bail Out
  • NorCal Resist Activist Bail & ICE Bond Fund
  • Baltimore Action Legal Team
  • Columbus Freedom Fund

Donate here.

The National Bail Fund Network has compiled a list of bail funds by state, which you can find by visiting Community Justice Exchange.


This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.












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