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Race Matters, Friends suspends community bail fund operations

The future of a Columbia community bail fund is in jeopardy after its operations were suspended by Race Matters, Friends.

Race Matters, Friends, a nonprofit group dedicated to racial equity, will keep the bail fund’s assets after the split. That will require the volunteers looking to reestablish the bail fund to start from scratch elsewhere.

Those behind the original fund are currently operating under the working name of Como Community Bail Fund.

“We received communication from the Race Matters, Friends executive committee that we should suspend operation and no longer use the name RMF Community Bail Fund for anything,” said Peggy Placier, a Como Community Bail Fund volunteer.

In an emailed statement, the Race Matters, Friends executive committee said that it “can’t speak for what others apart from RMF are doing or their objectives, but we can say that we remain committed to our original goal of ending the cash bail system and ensuring wealth has no role in the adjudication of justice.”

The uncertainty means those who might want to rely on the fund for financial support to get out of Boone County Jail will have limited options.

The Race Matters, Friends Community Bail Fund has helped more than 200 people arrested for low-level offenses bail out of jail since March 2019, according to data presented at a January meeting. During that span, the organization doled out more than $300,000 in bail payments.

The separation seems to stem from contrasting views over how to manage the bail fund and philosophical differences over use of the funds to pay client fines and fees to keep them out of jail.

“Across our four years of operation, these payments made up a significant percentage of what we paid in bail. We have always been upfront with our donors about this fact,” according to a Facebook post from Como Community Bail Fund. “Our extensive fundraising efforts were more than worth it to keep our clients free from these legal and financial burdens, which in many cases could have landed them back in jail for the inability to pay."

The fund group is “calculating our next steps,” Placier said, which could involve launching its own 501(c)(3) nonprofit or affiliating with a different, existing organization.

Race Matters, Friends established its fund to keep lower-income people charged with minor offenses out of jail while their cases progress through the court system. That also meant providing non-financial assistance, like reminders of court dates, to help clients navigate the judicial process.

When someone clears the court system while attending hearings as required, their bail amount is refunded, which has allowed the fund to recoup portions of its money.

The fund was operated entirely by volunteers, Placier said.

“We thought we were doing well, but there was a definite difference of opinion with the Race Matters, Friends executive board,” she said.

The current limbo has consequences for those who might want the fund’s assistance.

“As far as I know, since we have been told to suspend operation, nobody is bailing people out of the Boone County Jail,” Placier said.

But, she said, regardless of how the fund continues, there will be advocacy work against the cash bail system.

“If you’re going to put somebody in jail, it should be because they pose a danger to the public,” Placier said, “not because they don’t have any money.”

The Columbia Missourian is a community news organization managed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.