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Chattanooga bail initiative hopes to reunite families for Mother's Day

The Chattanooga Black Mamas Bail Out campaign is part of a national movement to help mothers in pre-trial detention afford bail.

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — An initiative hopes to reunite families for Mother’s Day. The Chattanooga Black Mamas Bail Out campaign is part of a national movement to help mothers in pre-trial detention afford bail.

"Money shouldn't be a barrier to freedom,” Dylan Gibbons with the Hamilton County Community Bail Fund said.

Gibbons says for some the price is just too steep. The fund posts bail for pre-trial inmates who can't afford to pay for themselves.

"The reality is that liberty is not often available to all, but those who can afford to pay their way out,” he said.

HCCBF is helping the local launch of the National Black Mama’s Bail Out initiative. Organizers hope to help 15 Black mothers in Hamilton County, reuniting families for Mother's Day. According to the National Bail Out Collective, Black people are twice as likely to be held pre-trial after being arrested.

"Our mothers are the backbones of our communities,” organizer Ayana Clemmons said. “They are oftentimes doing the grunt work and taking care of those that need mothering.”

The group is accepting referrals now, but Sheriff Jim Hammond isn't convinced they'll see a need. According to county officials, there are about 620 pre-trial inmates in Hamilton County, around 85 of them women. Officials say the county does not have a report of how many people of color are considered pre-trial. 

Hammond says those still in jail are there for a reason, whether that be a high-level charge or concern the person might abscond.

"This is not a county where prisoners are going to languish in jail because they stole a candy bar and can't afford a $200, $300 bond, that's just not happening,” he said.

HCCBF ultimately wants to get rid of cash bail entirely, citing states like Illinois that have reformed or removed cash bail systems, a goal Hammond disagrees with. He says the county's system works, and they review cases daily so inmates held on low charges don't remain incarcerated simply because of money.

"We find that the systems we already have in place take care of 99% of the people,” he said.

But for the 15 mothers they hope to free, organizers say time is worth the price.

"Folks should not be held and separated from their families simply because they don't have enough money to pay bail,” Clemmons said.

To qualify, the bail amount must be less than $5,000. To refer someone, click here, or email blackmamasbailoutchatt@gmail.com. While this specific initiative is aimed at Black mothers, the Hamilton County Community Bail Fund is available for anyone in need to request aid.