By Caleigh Carlisle
OAKLAND, CA ‒ The Essie Justice Group, Alameda County Chief Public Defender Brendon Woods, Assemblymember Mia Bonta and other criminal justice reform advocates gathered Thursday in front of Alameda County Superior Court to bring awareness to mass incarceration of Black women as part of the National Bail Out Campaign.
According to the mission statement, the Essie Justice Group is a nonprofit organization of “women with incarcerated loved ones taking on the rampant injustice created by mass incarceration.” The group works with the National Bail Out collective to bail out as many Black women as possible so they can return to their families and communities.
Gina Clayton-Johnson, the founder and executive director of the Essie Justice Group, said, “For the last seven years, we’ve been bailing out Black mothers in California, and with the reality that Black women are… overrepresented in jails and prisons came the need for us to double down on what it looks like to fill in the gaps with community-based care where society fails to resource Black women.”
“[We need] to remember… the need for society to listen to the voices of those directly impacted by incarceration, especially Black women. (We need) to invest in the leadership of women with incarcerated loved ones and fund community-based care led by women,” she added, noting half of Black women have a family member in prison.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, women are being incarcerated at twice the rate as men and are disproportionately placed in local jails. The pandemic disrupted this trend for several years, but numbers have begun to increase once again, said PPI, adding 60 percent of currently jailed women have not yet been convicted of a crime and are instead awaiting trial.
“Black women are going to jail because… we criminalized poverty,” Assemblymember Bonta said. In California, the median bail is set at $50,000, more than five times the national average, the Essie Justice Group reported.
“No one should be in jail simply because they don’t have the money to pay bail,” Alameda County Chief Public Defender Woods said.
According to Assemblymember Bonta, after being released from incarceration, women are four times less likely to get a job and be able to support themselves and their families.
The Prison Policy Initiative reported in 2022 that it took an average of six months for a formerly incarcerated person to find a job, only to make less than 84 cents for every dollar of the US median wage.
“We need to ensure we are actually building pathways to work and rehousing when our mamas come back to use, when our brothers and sisters come back to us, they do not have any doubt they have a home to go to and can immediately provide for [their] family,” Assemblymember Bonta stated.
Shaundrika Price, a mother who was bailed out of a Los Angeles jail by the Essie Justice group last year, said, “Locking people up, locking women and Black mamas up and ripping them from their families is not the answer. The answer is giving our people a chance to get better while in their communities and with their children and families.”