Anti-Racism 101

05 Criminalization of Poverty


“Women caregivers face separation from their children when they are subject to or try to escape domestic violence. While statistics in Philadelphia relating to child removal because of domestic violence are hard to come by, we know that domestic violence as a factor in child removal is widely prevalent across the US. A 2002 New York City class-action lawsuit, in which one expert called such practices ‘tantamount to pouring salt into an open wound,’ resulted in a consent decree making it unlawful to remove a child because the mother was a victim of domestic violence. In Arizona a report found that 25% of all removals for neglect were from victims of domestic violence. In Utah the single biggest category of ‘substantiated’ child maltreatment is witnessing domestic violence. In England studies showed domestic abuse featuring in 70-90% of cases going to family court and in 70% of child welfare cases. Given that Philadelphia removes children from their homes at the highest rate in the country for any city its size, and from our own casework, we have no doubt that domestic violence is a large factor here.

Women are faulted for ‘exposing their children to domestic violence,’ or for ‘failing to protect them from witnessing domestic violence,’ the blame being placed on the woman rather than on the abuser. Women know this, and are wary of reporting abuse, suggesting that even when statistics are collected, much goes unreported. Sometimes mothers fighting to stop court-ordered visits from abusive fathers are punished by having the children removed. All too often, custody is awarded to a manipulative abuser who may appear calm and reasonable while the mother may be upset and ‘emotional.’

Additionally when women leave domestic partners they often face insurmountable economic hurdles obtaining housing and money to survive, increasing their likelihood of losing their children because of the poverty they have been forced into. Yet instead of using resources to help families, they are used to remove children – it costs $38,000 a year to keep a child in foster care when $15,000 could cover rent for the woman escaping violence and her children. In the current climate of executive orders shredding an already inadequate safety net, this is a serious concern.” –Phoebe Jones

Cash Bail

“Central to our goal of abolishing money bail is our analysis that the system of money bail is founded on white supremacy, racial capitalism, and cisheteropatriarchy. Money bail serves as a tool of oppression in this larger schema. Black and Brown trans and gender non-conforming people are particularly targeted; almost half of all trans Black people will be incarcerated in their lifetime. Furthermore, the incarceration of people who the legal system categorizes as ‘women’ (regardless of people’s actual gender identity) has skyrocketed, growing faster than any other group over the last few decades. Ending money bail is a step towards chipping away at these larger systems of criminalization, policing, and incarceration that do violence against our communities. We must end money bail and pretrial detention in order to significantly decrease the number of people locked up in Philadelphia, and further racial, economic, and gender justice.

The average person accused of a crime in Philadelphia spends 25 days in jail pretrial before posting bail. For all, the effect of those 25 days — or in some cases, much longer — is catastrophic. Udi Ofer, director of Campaign for Smart Justice says, ‘to end the mass incarceration of women, we must end [the] cash bail system.’

Trans and cis women, trans men, and gender non-conforming people are particularly vulnerable to all aspects of the violence of incarceration. The costs of just a few hours of pretrial incarceration can be irreparably devastating. Almost 1 in 10 people report being sexually assaulted in jail, with the majority of acts of sexual violence in jails committed by guards. That number is double for people held in “female” facilities. These statistics are much lower than the actual rate of assault. Because of pretrial incarceration, people can also lose custody of their children, their jobs, their homes, and their vehicles. According to a recent study by Vera Institute, almost 80% of women in jails are parents, many of whom are single parents, making loss of child custody more likely. In jail, trans people experience heightened transphobic violence, including physical and emotional abuse, and denial of health care.

Money bail puts entire communities into debt in order to pay for their freedom. The 30% the City of Philadelphia deducts from posted bail is a deeply regressive form of taxation (which we are also working to end), one of many ways that people are prevented from building wealth, and instead made to bear the financial burden of funding government services. Unaffordable bails particularly impact Black and Brown cis and trans women, trans men, and gender non-conforming people, whose communities are especially criminalized and targeted. At the same time Black and Brown cis and trans women, trans men, and gender non-conforming people on average have lower incomes and less access to wealth, and are thus less likely to be able to afford bail at any given amount.” –Philadelphia Community Bail Fund

“Cash bail is inherently wrong and traps innocent people in jail. If people cannot pay bail, which is often intentionally set to be unaffordable for Black people, they remain stuck in jail. There is no alternative. And as a result, too many are either forced into plea deals or into predatory loans with bail bond companies–financially entrapping them with hidden fees and contracts. The scale of the $2 BILLION bail industry makes ending it feel both more challenging and urgent than ever, but we can’t give up.

Due to the efforts of Color Of Change, Essie Justice Group and others, Google and Facebook recently announced that they were cutting their ties with the bail bond industry for good. The two largest online advertising titans are no longer allowing bail bond agencies to advertise their predatory services. This is huge. But now we have to take it a step further and go after the engine that keeps the money bail machine running–the large banking and insurance corporations at the root of the entire money bail complex.” –John Legend

Recently New York Gov. Andrew Cuomousedhis executive powertorestore the right to votetopeople released from prison after a felony conviction. In doing so, he boldly—and rightfully—did an end-around theStateConstitution, which bars people on parole from voting, and the Republican-led stateSenate, which continues to support felony disenfranchisementdespiteits clear, disparate impact on communities of color.  

It’s time for other states to follow New York’s example. Felony disenfranchisement is the U.S.’s longest-standing form of voter suppression. Coupled with 40 years of mass incarceration, felony disenfranchisement has silenced the African-American’s political voicein ways that eclipse the “black codes” of the 1860s and the Jim Crow laws of the 1950s. Todayone in 13 African-Americans are denied the right to vote because of a felony conviction, according to The Sentencing Project.

The injustice of felony disenfranchisement has penetrated the electoral process in all but two states in the U.S. Outside of Maine and Vermont, where people vote from their prison cells, the denial is devastating and far reaching. In Florida, Kentucky, Iowa, and Virginia, people with felony convictions can lose the right to vote for the rest of their life. Across the country, more than six million people are denied their right to vote simply because of past convictions—non-votes that have and will continue to impact local, state, and national elections.” –Lewis Webb, Jr.