One of many arbitrary cruelties that riddle the U.S. criminal justice system is that people who are legally presumed to be innocent can be incarcerated before their trials unless they can pay their way out.

This blatant state-sponsored ransom disproportionately affects Black people, who face higher poverty and incarceration rates than whites do. Money bail is a main driver of the rising U.S. jail population—in 2016, according to the INDY’s reporting, about a quarter of people held at the Durham jail were on bonds of $5,000 or less.

For people without economic privilege, being held on bond can overturn their lives. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, the consequences can be deadly.   

The Bail Project is a nonprofit whose ultimate aim is to “steer local pretrial systems away from cash bail and jails and toward release on recognizance and investment in social services and community-based approaches to care and safety.”

As it pursues these policy goals, it also mitigates present harm with a national revolving bail fund. Donations are used to bring home people who are imprisoned on bonds they can’t afford, and because bail money is returned when cases close, it can then be recycled through the program.

At 7:00 p.m. tonight, June 3, the prodigious Durham musician and MIDI master al Riggs will perform a livestream concert to raise money for The Bail Project. Riggs will put their inimitable stamp on Randy Newman classic Sail Away, hoping to raise at least $1,000. Tune in via Facebook and donate here.

You can also support local organizations that are working to end money bail and other unjust incarceration practices:

Southerners on New Ground (SONG)

Black Youth Project Durham Chapter (BYP100)

All of Us or None NC Chapter

The Transformative Justice League

Contact arts and culture editor Brian Howe at

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