This Holiday Season, Let’s Keep Families Together

December 9, 2019

Houses with hearts and families

We love the holidays! We love all the food, we love all the gifts, and we love spending time with family. It really is a special time of year.

Well, it’s special for some of us. Thanks to mass incarceration, for many families the holidays have become a painful reminder of how broken our country’s criminal justice system really is. Right now there are almost half a million people behind bars who haven’t been convicted of anything. Most of them won’t be spending the holidays with their families for only one reason: they can’t afford to pay bail.

That’s not justice. Stand with us and together we’ll transform the system.


Families Should Be Together

You’ve heard of "innocent until proven guilty", right? Well, in America these days it feels more like guilty until proven wealthy. People who can’t afford to pay bail can wind up behind bars for weeks, months, or even years. And remember, these are people who have not been convicted of a crime. Hundreds of thousands of people are in jail today, right this second, only because they don’t have enough cash to make bail—and a lot of them have kids back at home who miss them, especially during the holidays.

Lavette Mayes knows what that is like. She’s a single mother living in Chicago. A few years ago, she was arrested after an altercation with her then mother-in-law. Even though Lavette had no record, and had never been involved with the criminal justice system before, the judge set her bail at $250,000. To get out of jail before her court date, she had to pay 10% of that, or $25,000. She couldn’t. There was no way she ever could. So she spent the next 14 months in jail.


Fourteen months without being able to hold her children. “My children were just as incarcerated as I was with me being gone,” she says. Fourteen months of stress and pain. She lost her business. She lost her savings. She nearly lost custody of her children. She’s out now, home with her kids, but none of them will ever get that time back. Lavette says, “I’m still fighting today to get back what I had before I went to jail.”


We Need to Transform the System

Lavette’s experience isn’t unique. Sadly, she’s just one of many thousands of people trapped in a system that seems to have forgotten about justice, about the presumption of innocence. This holiday season, we ask you to stand with us and demand change. It’s time to end money bail.

The good news is that there has been some progress—more and more political leaders around the country have begun to understand that poverty is not a crime. Activists and reform-minded policy makers are pushing to transform the system, to take the money this country spends on jails, prisons, and police and instead invest in people and communities, where it can truly do good.

Are you ready to make sure that families stay together during the holidays—and every other day too? Join the movement today. Add your name to the ACLU's petition to stop bail profiteer companies now!