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PHOENIX – Advocates say too many moms in Arizona will spend Mother’s Day behind bars simply because they can’t afford bail. Human Rights groups are using the holiday to call for reform of the state’s bail policies.

By Katherine Davis-Young
Public News Service

Living United for Change in Arizona, or LUCHA, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are collecting donations to bail at least one woman out of jail in time for Mother’s Day.

On Friday, the groups will hold a vigil at the State Capitol to honor mothers who remain behind bars as they await trial.

Nicole Hale, a mass-liberation organizer with LUCHA, says cash bail systems end up being less about a person’s crimes and more about what’s in her bank account.

If you are a rich person, you can easily bail yourself out, while, if you’re a poor person, you’re going to get stuck,” she states. “You’re not going to be able to pay that, and then that puts you at risk of losing your job.”

If you’re a mother, you’re talking about losing custody of your children, and you’re talking about showing up to your court date in orange clothing and chains, which is not going to help in the case.

The number of women in local jails nationwide has been increasing for decades, and the Vera Institute of Justice reports nearly 80 percent of women in American jails are mothers.

Hale says jails are disproportionately filled with low-income people and people of color. She says her organization isn’t suggesting that crimes go unpunished, just that people are treated fairly.

The Vera Institute of Justice reports the number of women in U.S. jails has increased 14-fold since 1970, and a large portion of those women are simply awaiting trial.

There always needs to be accountability, but the system itself is super biased and is not really operating on the lines of justice,” she stresses.

So we need to pick that apart. No matter what people have done, we should all be treated equally, and we’re not being treated equally.”

Bail laws vary by state. In recent years, New Jersey and Alaska have adopted systems to determine which defendants can be released prior to a trial without requiring bail payments.