CHAMPAIGN – The Champaign County Bailout Coalition paid more than $46,000 to bail 16 people out of the county jail. The 16 were among 27 arrested following looting and property damage reported in and near the Marketplace Mall last Sunday. Peaceful protests and some incidents of civil unrest have erupted across the country in response to the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.
CCBC was founded about a year ago, according to member Nick Hopkins. Hopkins is also a former assistant public defender for Champaign County. He says the group paid bail amounts ranging from $748 to $5,000 for the 16 people they helped release. Individuals are required to pay 10% of the bond set by a judge in order to get out of jail. After a case is resolved, that money is returned to the individual minus court costs and fines. The county also holds onto 10% of the money posted to release someone.
Hopkins says CCBC usually pays up to $500 of someone’s bail amount, but they increased that threshold in order to release as many people as possible. The charges leveled against the people arrested include burglary, theft and mob action, among other offenses.
Champaign County Sheriff Dustin Heuerman confirmed that 26 of the 27 arrested individuals had posted bond and been released from the jail as of Wednesday, and one person was released because they were not charged by the county state’s attorney.
CCBC volunteers provided transportation to those who were released, as well as water, snacks and hand sanitizer. The group says those arrested were held without bail for 48 hours, “provided substandard nourishment, and packed into unsanitary cells.”
Hopkins says the COVID-19 pandemic added a sense of urgency to the group’s mass bail out action. He says it was imperative to release as many people as quickly as possible given that jails across the country have become hot spots for the virus.
“This is my opinion: it’s incredible that people are incarcerated during this pandemic for nonviolent offenses for things involving property damage or theft. I think it’s pretty reasonable for a judge to determine that that person should be released on recognizance, but that’s unfortunately not the system we have in Champaign County,” Hopkins says.
Hopkins says CCBC prioritizes those with physical and mental health conditions for assistance paying bail.
“For example, we had somebody (in jail) who was pregnant and we really prioritize that, especially because of the recent COVID-19 outbreak,” Hopkins says.
He says the pandemic, Floyd’s killing and arrests of protesters across the country have increased donations to CCBC. He says part of the mass bail out was funded by the Chicago Community Bond Fund, an organization that pays bond for people arrested in Cook County. Hopkins says a significant portion of the funds also came from local community members.
“People want to communicate their support for things like racial justice, and also for the baseline principle of having an equal justice system where someone gets a fair trial, where someone is able to pay a bond, which has been determined by a judge, that would allow them to get out,” he says.
Earlier this year, CCBC posted bail for Aleyah Lewis, a black woman who was arrested by Urbana police in April during a gun investigation. Lewis’ treatment by police angered many in the community who felt that she was brutalized by the officers involved. Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin has said the city will hire an outside firm to investigate the arrest.
Hopkins says Lewis’ arrest highlights police brutality within the community, and issues of racism within policing. He also says racial inequity shows up in the cash bail system, too. People of color are disproportionately arrested and Hopkins says they are frequently unable to post bail because they can’t afford it.
He says the coalition’s ultimate goal is to eliminate the cash bail system in Champaign County and replace it with one that does not limit someone’s freedom based solely on their ability to make bail. Instead, he says, judges should evaluate the risk of flight or harm someone poses to the community and only detain them if the risk is significant enough to warrant continued incarceration.
He says CCBC will continue to help fund bail if people are arrested at future protests.
But, he says, “even if there were no protests, there would still be people in the Champaign County Jail who cannot leave jail simply because they don’t have enough money to pay a bond which has been determined by a county judge.”
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