The Civil Rights & Racial Justice Program (CRRJ) fights to decriminalize poverty in Virginia while dismantling systems of racial injustice. In the courts, CRRJ is currently focused on how Virginia’s bail practices harm low-income communities and communities of color. Judicial officials in Virginia too often make decisions that result in the pretrial detention of low-income Virginians, either through detaining them without a bond, including for low-level offenses, or setting cash bonds in amounts that many people cannot afford to pay, so they languish in jail. Once someone is held in jail, even for as short as a day, a cascade of consequences that push people deeper into poverty can result: job loss, eviction, and many others. Each day in Virginia, poor people suffer under our current pretrial system.
Plug-In: Court Watch
In 2018, CRRJ launched a court watch program to further support our advocacy efforts. Our program is specifically focused on the economic burdens and barriers imposed by the criminal legal system, such as bail and court debt. We’ve developed a model of court watch specific to Virginia criminal court practice at the magistrate and General District Court levels. To date, our court watch team has observed over 300 appearances related to bail hearings and the imposition of court debt.
CRRJ has also been providing technical assistance to groups who want to implement their own court watch programs to address other issues, training organizations including Southerners on New Ground and the Richmond Community Bail Fund. We need volunteers like you to help continue to gather information on how these systems work across central Virginia so we can strategize together with directly affected communities about how to eliminate their disproportionately negative impact on people of color and low-income.
Sign up here to attend a training or schedule a training for your organization.
Coming Soon: Community Forums on Bail in Virginia
CRRJ plans to host community forums where people can talk about bail practices in Virginia. We would like people or families who have direct experience with Virginia bail practices, like being required to post an unaffordable secured (money) bond or being held without bail altogether, to share their experiences. We also welcome people who are generally interested in learning more about bail practice in Virginia. At the forums, CRRJ will present what we’ve learned through our court watch program about how bail works in Virginia, and invite everyone to join us in a discussion of what types of reforms are necessary to fix Virginia’s broken bail system and what pretrial justice should look like. Our first forum will be in Petersburg, Virginia.
Sign up here to be notified of upcoming community forums.
- Community Bail Funds
- Richmond Community Bail Fund
- Charlottesville Community Resilience Fund
- RCBF and the Resilience Fund are the only two active community bail funds in central Virginia. Community bail funds free people by paying their bonds and also fight to abolish the money bail system. To learn more about the community bail fund movement, click here.
- Southerners on New Ground
- Southerners On New Ground (SONG) is a regional Queer Liberation organization made up of people of color, immigrants, undocumented people, people with disabilities, working class and rural and small town, LGBTQ people in the South. For the second year in a row, SONG is organizing to bail out Black mothers across the region for Mother’s Day so they spend the day with their families. Read more about the Black Mama’s Bail Out action here.