BPDA Listening Sessions: Disrupting Carceral Systems

The Black Public Defender Association is drafting a position paper to the Biden-Harris Administration, with the goal of disrupting the carceral systems that greatly harm the Black communities we serve. In January 2021, BPDA will hold a series of listening sessions to discuss your innovative solutions to the disastrous effects of these carceral systems.

As noted in the Underground Scholars Language Guide, carceral systems are “best understood as a comprehensive network of systems that rely, at least in part, on the exercise of state sanctioned physical, emotional, spatial, economic and political violence to preserve the interests of the state.”

BPDA’s definition of carceral systems includes the criminal legal system, housing courts, immigration, foster care systems, and other oppressive systems. We will explore racial equity through the lens of these various systems in order to develop effective strategies that disrupt the cycle of harm to Black communities.

BPDA wants to hear from you.

We want your input in defining how these carceral systems inflict harm and how the new Administration can best wield its federal power to disrupt them. In addition to the overall criminal legal system, we have identified the following carceral systems in which Black public defenders regularly engage:

  1. Education
  2. Housing
  3. Immigration
  4. Incarceration
  5. Juvenile Delinquency
  6. Juvenile Dependency, and
  7. Reentry.

We’d like your help beyond identifying the various ways these carceral systems cause harm to identifying how the Biden-Harris Administration can work to disrupt these harms. Register for one of three listening sessions, where we will discuss the criminal legal system and and specific topics:

  • Tuesday, January 12 at 4pm ET: Juvenile Delinquency, Juvenile Dependency, Education
  • Thursday, January 14 at 6pm ET: Immigration, Incarceration
  • Friday, January 22 at 3pm ET: Housing, Reentry

Then BPDA will incorporate your input into the draft and final position paper to the Biden-Harris Administration. If you have any questions regarding this project, please contact Michelle Bonner at m.bonner@nlada.org.

BPDA's Position on Cash Bail

The Black Public Defender Association (BPDA) supports reforms that eliminate the use of cash bail. 

Cash bail is a wealth-based pretrial system that unjustly incarcerates people and does nothing to promote community safety. It is used not only to jail people who are legally innocent, but it also criminalizes poverty and perpetuates racial inequities in the criminal legal system. In addition, cash bail coerces people to plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit and promotes wrongful convictions.

  • Cash bail is an arbitrary system that criminalizes poverty and discriminates against low-income people.
  • Cash bail perpetuates the structural racism inherent in our society and criminal legal system.
  • Cash bail does not ensure people return to court or improve public safety.

BPDA Policy Recommendations:

  • Eliminate cash bail.
  • Eliminate arrests for low-level offenses, stop unnecessary prosecutions, and implement deflection programs to divert people away from the criminal legal system and instead connect them to community support services to address unmet needs, such as housing.
  • Implement measures to ensure court appearances.
  • Utilize non-punitive conditions for pretrial release.
  • Remove for-profit interests such as bail bondsman from the criminal legal system. Remove all costs associated with pretrial services, and make non-monetary conditions of release free for the accused. 
  • Do not replace mass incarceration with mass community surveillance and e-carceration (the use of technology to deprive people of their freedom) of Black and brown communities.
  • Eliminate the use of risk assessment tools in making pretrial detention decisions.