Traci Wilson-Kleekamp on Sunday morning drove on snow-covered roads to bail a woman out of jail.
The woman had been in jail overnight for failure to appear on a citation for having no proof of insurance and an expired tag.
She was the first recipient of services from the Race Matters, Friends Community Bail Fund, after months of planning, meetings, fund-raising and organizing. Wilson-Kleekamp, the president of Race Matters, Friends, paid $318.50 to bail the woman out, plus $22.30 for a “technology fee.” The not-for-profit has promised confidentiality to those it helps.
“I feel good,” Wilson-Kleekamp said about the experience. “I picked the person up and took her home and made sure she had a way to get to work.”
“It’s kind of sad when you’ve criminalized when you can’t pay your tag or car insurance,” Wilson-Kleekamp said, adding that she didn’t know a solution.
She said the bail fund has met regularly and its members have attended monthly jail overcrowding meetings.
“It’s been a long learning process for the group to research and fine-tune the process of how to bail somebody out of jail,” Wilson-Kleekamp said. She said Boone County Circuit Court Administrator Mary Epping has been very helpful in the process.
“The judges have been very engaged,” Wilson-Kleekamp said.
She said she thinks the first release will help raise awareness for the bail fund.
“You have St. Louis on one side and Kansas City on the other side” of the state with bail funds, she said. “You would think our town leaders would pay more attention.”
She said it’s easy for police to patrol in poor neighborhoods and find cars with expired tags.
“They’re making money off the backs of poor people,” she said.
She said when the defendants show up for their court appearances as scheduled, the bail fund gets back the money it paid, minus the fee.
Carol Brown is a member of Race Matters, Friends and has been involved in the bail fund from the beginning discussions.
“It was complicated,” Brown said. “It wasn’t easy. We did it and we’re going to continue to do it. We’ve been after this for over a year. I feel great.”
Brown accompanied the defendant to a court hearing on Tuesday. She said it was simple.
“She showed up,” Brown said. “I had checked to see if she needed a ride. I reminded her I would call next week for her next court date. We always want to be able to provide rides.”
Brown said she thinks bailing people out will get easier after the first experience.
“We found out that for every answer we received, there was conflicting information from a variety of sources,” Brown said. “We had to figure it out on our own. It was a real learning process for all of us.”
She said the group needs volunteers to drive to the jail to bail people out, provide rides to court and to call people with reminders to come to court.
“We want to help people to show up,” she said.
Prospective volunteers can email firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations can be made at the Race Matters, Friends website.
She said those in jail awaiting court dates haven’t been convicted of anything, but they’re being punished. She said those with resources don’t spend time in jail before their trials.
The bail fund literature states that the bail industry preys upon the poor and vulnerable and cause people to lose their jobs and become entrenched in poverty.
“It’s really important to interrupt systems of injustice when we come across them,” Brown said.