Twenty-five Charlotte families will be reunited for Thanksgiving thanks to the work of The Bail Project and a donation from the Carolina Panthers Player Impact Committee and the David Tepper Charitable Foundation.
Nonprofit organization The Bail Project announced Friday a nearly $100,000 donation from the Player Impact Committee and the Tepper Foundation to post bail for 25 low-income, nonviolent offenders in need of bail assistance. The donation also provides Thanksgiving meal packages and gift cards for groceries, clothes and other essentials.
According to Mecklenburg County reports, an overwhelming majority of people in Mecklenburg County Jail sit behind bars because they can’t afford cash bail. Through the project’s national Revolving Bail Fund, donations are recycled at the end of a client’s case and reused to pay bail.
“For every $1, we can get three clients out a year,” said Shelton McElroy, national director of strategic partnerships for The Bail Project. “As that money revolves, we’ll recycle it and bring out someone else. It will stay in Charlotte, and it will continue to bring clients out over and over again.”
The 25 impacted people were accused of minor crimes like simple drug possession and traffic violations. Once released, New Birth Charlotte will assist former inmates with wraparound services like job placement, transportation assistance and court reminders.
In brainstorming ideas of places to allocate funds, Panthers tight end and Player Impact Committee member Chris Manhertz said bail reform was the common denominator.
His teammate and fellow committee member Ross Cockrell added that the partnership is an opportunity to continue to preach justice and impact the community.
“A lot of times, we believe as a culture that you are innocent until proven guilty and our actions aren’t quite following that narrative,” said Cockrell, a Charlotte native.
In a statement, Panthers owner David Tepper said that his foundation is happy to help The Bail Project with reuniting families in time for Thanksgiving, stating that the organization “works tirelessly to address this critical issue within the criminal justice space.”
Changing the narrative
The Bail Project launched its Charlotte operations in August and has already helped more than 100 people. The local team accepts community referrals and works in collaboration with the Mecklenburg County Public Defender’s Office to identify people in need of bail assistance.
Gemini Boyd is one of the project’s local “bail disruptors.” The 45-year-old is well-known in Charlotte’s activist community, using his personal story of incarceration to fight for the rights of former inmates adjusting to life after jail or prison sentences.
Earlier last week, Boyd sat on a panel in front of almost 150 people to talk about his experience of being incarcerated for more than 20 years and then re-entering society.
In that presentation, he spoke about the work of The Bail Project and how it makes his clients “feel human again” by connecting them with resources rather than passing by them on the streets.
It was a point he reiterated during Friday’s press conference.
“What has happened with incarceration, it has dehumanized not only the person being incarcerated but society in itself,” said Boyd, who is also the founder of the social justice nonprofit, Project B.O.L.T.
He added, “Society looks at it like where the only thing we see is graphs, charts and numbers. We are dealing with human beings, y’all.”
There have been ongoing debates about the effects of pretrial detention, particularly the high rates connected to poor and minority defendants.
A 2018 study published in “The American Economic Review” cited arguments that those held in jail pretrial are more likely to plead guilty, leading to criminal records that make it harder to get employment, housing, student financial aid and other opportunities.
According to McElroy, The Bail Project ultimately wants to see a divestment in incarcerating people and an investment in community services.
“That network should replace cash bail,” he said. “It’s irresponsible to simply bail people out into a void, but it’s very responsible to have a network of support to wrap around people and bring them out so they can reach whatever goals they have.”
Katrina Louis is managing editor of qcitymetro.com who can always find something to do in Charlotte. She’s an offline hustler (and has the shirt to prove it) but when online, find her on Instagram and Twitter.