In the summer of 2020, Lehigh Valley Meeting in Bethlehem, Pa., started a fund to provide bail for people who can’t afford it. But so far they have had trouble distributing the funds.
“Mass incarceration is a huge problem and cash bail is a big part of the issue,” said Dan Falco, a member of Lehigh Valley Meeting and of the meeting’s Social Concerns Committee. “People can get arrested for a nonviolent offense, and they’re held on $500 bail. If they don’t have the money to post it, and they’re stuck in jail because of that . . . they can lose their job, they can’t pay their rent, and then they can get kicked out of their home or lose custody of their children.”
After hearing a presentation on the issue at the meetinghouse, Falco and the Social Concerns Committee raised $7,500 from the meeting for a bail fund and another nearly $2,500 in outside donations. Their idea was to be proactive in identifying people who might need help with bail by finding people who needed a public defender. The meeting would provide small bail amounts, from $500 to $1,500, and the majority of that money would be returned to the fund when the recipients showed up for their court hearings. According to Falco over 90 percent of defendants appear in court even when they aren’t the ones who posted the bail.
However, as of April, the committee has only been able to provide bail to two defendants.
“It’s just frustrating because it’s hard to believe that there’s not more people that need to be bailed out,” says Falco. “We’re told that it isn’t really a problem and there aren’t people that need to be bailed out, but yet when we ask for data, the county is very reluctant to give out any data.”
Falco also notes that bail is not the only issue poor defendants face. Often they cannot be released because they lack a verifiable address. Increasingly, the bail fund has been used to provide money for defendants needing housing. But according to Falco, the committee must be careful about using the fund in this way, as the money is not replaced as it would be if it were used for bail.
The Social Concerns Committee continues to work on determining the best use of the fund going forward.
Other members of Lehigh Valley Meeting’s Social Concerns Committee working on this issue include Jack Cheezum, Ella Frey, Cathy Gumlock, Jim Hauser, Alan James, Susan Jordhamo, Mimi Lang, Jorge Torres, and Edi Ward.