INDIANAPOLIS — Jerrica Hall sat in the Clark County Jail for three days in 2015 because she couldn’t afford the $500 bail. In those three days, she lost her job, her home and her car.

“I come from a poor family, so we didn’t have the money,” said Hall, a resident of Scott County. “The mental toll that had on me was very devastating.”

Having no money and feeling she didn’t have any other choice, Hall pleaded guilty to possession of illegal substances and served six months. Already in the throes of addiction, homeless, jobless and desperate,

she relapsed into drug abuse when she regained her freedom.

Hall gathered with dozens of families at the Indiana Statehouse on Thursday through Hoosier Action, an organization based in Southern Indiana, to urge the General Assembly to rewrite legislation that, Hoosier Action says, would exacerbate the overdose crisis and add to the mass incarceration of Hoosiers.

House Bill 1300 places restrictions on charitable (or nonprofit) bail organizations who post bond for indigent Hoosiers. The organization boasts that 95% of its clients appear in court. A small percentage have been accused of committing other crimes, including murder, while out on bail.

No evidence suggests that charitable bail organizations have higher percentages of clients who go on to commit new crimes. For-profit bail organizations didn’t provide information, according to testimony on the bill. But legislation seeks to place limitations on charitable bail organizations only.

If she’d had access to a charitable bail organization or addiction services, Hall said, she would have become sober much sooner.

“If people vote yes on this bill it’s going to harm people,” she said.

LIMITING CHARITIES

HB 1300 combines limitations on charitable bail organizations with prohibitions on municipalities awarding grants to the nonprofits, with the latter provisions coming from a Senate package of anti-crime bills centered on Indianapolis.

“The fact is that they (nonprofit bail organizations) are not regulated in any way,” bill author Rep. Peggy Mayfield, R-Martinsville, said. “So we’re just trying to bring parity (for profit-based bail companies).”

The Bail Project, a charitable bail organization, currently operates only in Marion County and Lake County. The Senate package also introduced a “violent arrestee” pilot in Marion County that would limit judge discretion on bail.

Bill provisions for charitable bail organizations include:

• Limiting the posting of bail to only misdemeanor offenses
• Requiring organizations to register with the Indiana Department of Insurance (if posting bail for more than four people annually)’
• And capping bail payments made by the organization at $2,000.

The language of the bill makes it applicable also to other entities, such as churches that might pool resources to post bail.

In committee testimony last week, Michael Moore, assistant executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, criticized the bill for targeting charitable bail organizations and not also limiting for-profit entities, which can bond out “violent” offenders, don’t have a $2,000 limit and have the legal authority to pursue clients who flee.

“The goal of this bill is to bring charitable organizations in parity with bonding companies, and yet they don’t have the same powers and authority as bonding companies,” Moore said. “The Bail Project … provides a great service in Marion County to the people who are poor and just can’t simply afford to pay their way out of jail.”

According to Hoosier Action, the Surety Bail PAC (political action committee) representing for-profit bail companies has contributed almost $50,000 in the past eight years to the campaigns of state legislators. Some individual companies, including the American Surety Co. and United Surety Agents, have given tens of thousands of dollars on top of the PAC’s contributions.

“HB 1300 is a bill written by and for the predatory bail bonds industry, so they can have a monopoly in a market which exchanges cash for freedom,” Carissa Miller, a Floyd County Hoosier Action leader, said in a statement.

For Hall, the focus on limiting bail that could be posted by a non-profit for so-called “violent offenders” would create a significant hurdle if her husband were arrested.

While incarcerated on a misdemeanor charge in 2008 and unable to afford bail, her husband got into a fight and was convicted as a serious violent felon.

“That’s still on his record,” Hall said. “When you’re in jail and in that condition — you try to get through, but things happen. You’re just trying to survive.”

Hall said the General Assembly supports only the wealthiest of Hoosiers who could get their attention, such as the bail bondsman associations. Those wealthy Hoosiers experience a different criminal justice system.

“Someone who has money and is rich, they can pay an attorney. They can pay to get (their charges) exonerated. They can pay bail,” Hall said. “(Lawmakers) need to realize there are people out here who can’t afford $500 — who can’t even afford $200 (in bail).”

‘INCARCERATION DOESN’T HELP’

In testimony last week, David Gaspar, national director of The Bail Project, called the legislation a “transparent attack” on the organization’s work, which had assisted nearly 1,000 low-income Hoosiers. “Once the judge has determined that a person can be released contingent on posting bail, it should not matter who pays for it,” Gaspar said. “The bail bond companies can post bail for anyone regardless of charge or amount as long as the person pays their fee.”

Unlike for-profit companies, The Bail Project can’t take its clients’ money or property if they fail to pay, Gaspar said. He criticized the bail system in Indiana for diverting money — approximately $242 million annually — from addiction and homelessness services to jail administration.

Carissa Miller, like Hall, spoke to families gathered Thursday with Hoosier Action at the Statehouse, sharing her story and challenging lawmakers to defeat HB 1300. The bail system, Miller said, harmed her younger sister, who couldn’t afford bail and spent five months behind bars in 2016 without psychiatric services to treat her schizophrenia.

“We grew up in a house that if we had electric and water in the same month it was a good month,” Miller said. “There was a lot of domestic violence and substance abuse. … My little sister developed a substance-use disorder.”

After months incarcerated without medication, her sister signed a plea agreement and was released. She overdosed months afterward but was revived with a dose of Naloxone. Miller said her sister still struggles to afford adequate housing and find employment.

Miller said she believes the state’s criminalization of drug use and failure to enable treatment for incarcerated addicts exacerbates the problem. Arresting Hoosiers doesn’t help, she said.

“The best practice is referral to treatment,” said Miller, a social worker. “Incarceration does not improve any outcomes — it doesn’t reduce recidivism and it doesn’t stop people from being mentally ill.”

Miller said that programs she worked with in Scott County, where her practice is located, may try to bail someone out of jail in order to get them into residential treatment. Even though charitable bail programs only exist in Marion County and Lake County, other organizations do the same type of work and would be impacted by the proposed law.

“They’re putting barriers in place where these programs can’t function effectively,” Miller said.
© 2022 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.