Donating For A Good Cause? This App Combines People’s Spare Change To Bail People Out Of Jail!
Bail has long been used before trials to assure that a person accused of a crime appears in court; if the accused doesn’t appear, he forfeits the money. But there’s growing concern that this path creates a two-tiered system for the 12 million people arrested each year. There is an app circulating around that started out as a social experiment, aiming to shake up that unfair concept.
The pay-to-go-free concept is simple. Those who can afford to get bailed out go home to await their day in court; those who cannot remain locked up. On an average day, that’s about 450,000 people, accounting for two-thirds of the nation’s jail population. Their pretrial detention can stretch from weeks to years. Meanwhile, though presumably “innocent until proved guilty,” they can lose jobs, homes, or custody of their children.
“An app that converts your daily change into bail money to free black people.” That’s what Kortney Ryan Ziegler, a social engineer with a PhD in African-American studies, tweeted in July.
The remarkable thing was how positive the response was right from the start – just short of 200 people replied with offers to help. That was the start of Appolition (the name is a “abolition” + “app” combo), which aggregates subscriber/user spare change and funnels those funds to “National Bail Out”.
Being linked to the user’s bank account, the app modifies the purchase prices, rounding them up to the nearest dollar. The difference is donated to a network of grassroots groups that post bail for people who would otherwise languish behind bars while awaiting their day in court.
Troy Wilson was among those who saw Ziegler’s tweet. Wilson is the co-founder and CEO of Musterd, which built the underlying technology for harvesting spare change through an app. Wilson knows the problems with bail firsthand. In 2011, he was arrested for driving with a fictitious registration sticker. He had been waiting for the paperwork proving that he owned the car, he explained, but getting around in Harris County, Texas, without a car was near-impossible. With a wife and a newborn at home, Wilson drove to and from work with a fake sticker.
His price was set at $2,000. In Texas, a person need pay only 10 percent of the bail amount to be released, but the couple didn’t have a spare $200. Wilson spent two days in jail until friends collected the money. In jail, he met men whose families couldn’t come up with a needed $100.
“I was lucky to have someone to bail me out,” Wilson says. “But what about people who don’t have any safety net?”
Wilson points to Kalief Browder, a 16-year-old accused of stealing a backpack who, unable to meet a $3,000 bail, spent three years at New York’s Rikers Island before charges were dismissed. In 2015, haunted by those three years plagued by violence and long stints in solitary confinement, Browder hanged himself.
Some of those donations contributed to a holiday bailout in Boston, organized by the Massachusetts Bail Fund and Black Lives Matter Cambridge. Activists visit Boston-area courthouses and jails to identify people who can’t afford to post bail. On Dec. 11, they posted bail for three people appearing for court dates. One of those men, recalled Atara Rich-Shea of the Massachusetts Bail Fund, had spent weeks in jail because he could not afford $300 to get out. Organizers posted his bail, allowing him to surprise his mother with his unexpected return in time for the holidays. On Dec. 21, they posted bail for eight others.
Funds collected by the app will help further other bailouts, explained both Hall and Ziegler, including a month-long national mass bailout, starting Feb. 13 (Black Love Day) and running through mid-March.