Terrence Hayes of the Portland Freedom Fund on choosing which defendants to help and lessons learned from a terrible tragedy

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Washington and Oregon both exceeded the national average suicide rate among inmates from 2000 to 2019, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report.

Austin Jenkins/Northwest News Network

The Portland Freedom Fund started several years ago, but has gained real momentum following the 2020 racial justice protests. Organizers are focused on helping low-income BIPOC defendants after bail. They also want to draw attention to the racial inequalities built into the cash bail system more broadly. The group came under fire recently after a defendant they helped was charged with murdering the mother of his children after being released.

Hayes spoke with “Think Out Loud” host Dave Miller on Thursday. Here are some highlights from that conversation. To listen to the entire segment, use the audio player at the top of this story.

Why Hayes believes the bail system disproportionately harms low-income communities of color:

When you look at some of the poorest communities in our country, they are mostly BIPOC communities. And so when you put in place a system that needs money, for people to be home and fight their innocence, then vicariously poor communities suffer because poor communities can’t afford those bonds. Most people, especially in the BIPOC community, cannot afford to post $15, $20, or $30,000 bail at any given time.

And so what ends up happening is that the wealthy people of our country can afford to bail out. They can afford to fight their case from home which historically gives you a better chance of not only winning but also getting better deals because you’re free you can sort of fight your own situation and you can take advantage of it when the time comes. at the negotiating table.

How Hayes and other members of the Portland Freedom Fund decide which defendants to help:

So what I try to do is look for the story. Like do they have a history of crimes? Was it something that could be considered self-defense? And then, how does the community view this individual?

I’ve heard moms say, “He’s not ready to change.” Let’s not use something that can be good for the community to let them out. The mothers of my community would rather visit you in prison than bury you. When parents know their children pose a risk to themselves and others, they are in no rush to participate in their return to the community.

We’ve actually turned down people we know intimately, but because we know intimately, we know they’re not at a point where they’re ready to do better or not harm the community.

Why the Portland Freedom Fund decided last month to help Mohamad Adan post bail, who a week later allegedly murdered Rachel Abraham, the mother of his children:

I think we can agree that while doing the work we do every day, something horrible like this happened.

To be fair, when you do a good thing, there’s always the chance that someone won’t do well with that good thing. So if I sit here and say “oh, he was a good candidate”, it spits in the face of what this family is going through. It spits in the face of the harm that has been done to the community. Who spits in the face of this drama. But I will say that we have bailed out hundreds of people so far. We have touched hundreds of lives in very positive ways.

We also learn from our lessons. What we’ve realized is that we need to ask more of the lawyers who recommend individuals and we need to be able to take a bit more time and assess individuals. It’s a horrible lesson learned for us, but we’re trying to grow and develop.

On how this tragedy is leading to changes in how the Portland Freedom Fund assesses defendants to help post bail:

So one of the things we’re going to do is when we get recommendations from lawyers, the client has to be prepared to sign an information release. If a client is willing to sign an information release and the public defender is willing to give us access to all of these things, then I think we can make a better decision.

We will certainly do a little better to ensure that we try to contact victims or potential victims in this space.

We will not view domestic violence crimes as something we condone. We realize the extreme possibility of harm that may result. So those are all things that we’re trying to do better. We are a grassroots organization trying to give the community something we haven’t had in the past.

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