John Legend, The Color of Change and a Powerful New Video on Bail Reform

In The News

Recording artist and activist John Legend joined Rashad Robinson—executive director of the Color of Change—in an op-ed in CNN to call for an end to money bail:

If you believe TV crime shows, you might think that commercial money bail emerged as a solution to a problem of justice: a service that reasonably aided people in paying bail — the deposit that defendants leave with the court as collateral for their promise to appear at trial. The actual history: the first commercial bail bond business started in 1898 in San Francisco and functioned as a corrupt payoff racket among crime bosses, judges, lawyers and police.

This history is consistent with the reality of money bail today. If you are wealthy, you can post the bail amount and walk free, whether or not you pose a threat to society. But if you don’t have the money, regardless of how small the alleged crime, giving in to the commercial money bail industry may be your only option to avoid a months-long wait behind bars.

The Color of Change is the recipient of an Art for Justice Fund grant intended to educate and mobilize black Americans about the role of prosecutors and the need for bail reform through online and in-person activism.

In addition to the op-ed, the organization recently released a brilliantly animated video on bail narrated by Legend.

Meanwhile, a revolving bail fund, known as the Bail Project has raised $30 million and highlights the attention major philanthropy is placing on tackling the front-end of criminal justice—jails, policing and money bail, writes Inside Philanthropy’s Philip Rojc. The revolving fund itself also shows why the current bail system is fundamentally unjust:

[W]hat makes this model particularly exciting from a philanthropic perspective is its sustainability. Because bail is refunded when defendants successfully return to court, the same money can be used over and over again—two to three times a year, according to [Robin Steinberg head of the Bail Project]. …When a revolving fund bails defendants out and lets them return on their own, Steinberg says, case dispositions are dramatically impacted. Without the option to hold plea deals over defendants’ heads, prosecutors tend to dismiss cases a lot more frequently. That can catalyze a virtuous cycle in which district attorneys, for instance, indicate to police that they won’t bother prosecuting certain low-level cases.