On any given day, many Indianapolis residents sit behind bars, without being convicted of anything, simply because they cannot afford a bail payment. A few weeks ago, four of them learned firsthand about a new nonprofit program that is aimed at providing people in similar conditions with an alternative solution.
Representatives of The Bail Project were conducting test bailouts in preparation for the launch of the program in Indianapolis, which will run in partnership with the Marion County Public Defender Agency and Marion County Re-Entry Coalition. By the end of the night, these four individuals were back with their families, just in time for the Christmas holidays, and the opportunity to prepare for their day in court — a privilege that is often more accessible for those with more money.
The Bail Project is a national nonprofit organization on a mission to create a juster pre-trial system in the US. The organization runs a national bail fund that provides bail assistance to low-wealth people and supports them throughout their legal process with court notifications, referrals to social services, and transportation assistance. The local team in Indianapolis seeks to assist hundreds of residents per year while collecting data to strengthen potential reforms.
Hope Tribble, Lay Leader at Broadway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, brought awareness of The Bail Project to government officials in Indianapolis-Marion County, including Mayor Joe Hogsett. Hope thinks that initiatives like The Bail Project are part of a vitally important and long overdue conversation about criminal justice reform and can play a critical role in reducing human suffering as we work toward a more just system. “The outcome for people in their criminal justice experience is better when they’re able to negotiate as free persons than in jail,” she said.
Research conducted by the Pew Research Center illustrates that the US incarceration rate is at its lowest point in two decades, but still harbors the largest prison population in the world, with over two million people currently behind bars – more than China and Brazil, second and third on the list. And that’s not including the nearly half a million Americans who are jailed pretrial on any given day.
The Bail Project launched in January 2017 and has since opened nine sites across the country and assisted more than 3,000 people. The organization uses philanthropic contributions to sustain its national bail fund. Because cash bail is returned at the end of a case, so long as the person returns to court, donations to The Bail Project can be recycled to help multiple people with the same dollars. Once free, individuals are able to reunite with their children and family members, return to work and make better decisions about their legal cases. According to the organization, the vast majority of people, more than 95 percent, return to court when provided with adequate notifications and support.
The Bail Project describes its model as “a critical tool to prevent pretrial incarceration and combat racial and economic disparities in the bail system.” The organization plans to expand to several new cities this year. Hope has expressed a long-lived passion for those who are often left in the margins of society due to mass – and often unjust – incarceration.
With more than 30 years of experience working in various local, state and federal government roles, Hope was appointed Director of Audit and Performance for the City of Indianapolis by Mayor Hogsett in 2016. In that role, Hope has worked to strengthen cross-communication and data-sharing across departments and, by using information gained from engaging city employees, has worked to shine a light on the strengths and weaknesses of the City of Indianapolis for the betterment of its future.
“Sometimes, we feel like it’s not our fight and I think we’re in a place now where we can’t afford to do that. We all have to be more proactive. We cannot remain silent.” And Hope has not been silent about the issues of injustice, race relations, and institutional racism. She’s been proactive in bringing the conversation to her cohorts in government as well as her neighbors in Christ.
“Hope would tell you she did this because of her faith in Christ,” stated Rev. Michael Mather, Senior Pastor at Broadway UMC. “She is living as if the Gospel is true – and because of that, others will be able to see what Hope knows – that when Jesus announces the prisoners are set free, this is literally true.”
“I hope the goal of releasing 100 people a month is realized, “ said Hope. “I’m hoping people not only get out, but the additional freedom is advanced in the community. The benefits of people being free are spread widely.”
She continued, “I also hope this brings a different awareness for people who are involved in the justice system. That they see that there’s an organization willing to help people in vulnerable situations and continue the work on improving the justice system for everyone.”