Background

The United States currently incarcerates more than two million people, predominantly Black and Latinx. Almost half a million of these people are being held on pretrial bond (bail). Money bail penalizes poverty and reproduces racism. In 2015, nationwide the median bail was $10,000, while the median pre-incarceration annual income of people incarcerated was $15,000. Black people are twice as likely to be held pretrial as white people and Muslims in pretrial incarceration face an increased risk of victimization, surveillance and denial of religious freedom in the prison system due to anti-Muslim racism (frequently referred to as Islamophobia). People who are detained before trial have worse outcomes than those who confront their charges from outside a cage.

While the criminal legal system proclaims the principle of innocent until proven guilty, the reality is that people who have not been convicted of any crime can be jailed indefinitely because they can’t afford bail. People in pretrial incarceration can lose their jobs, their children, their homes, and even their lives.

Immigration bond is imposed on immigrants held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE)” custody. Whether bond is imposed, and how much, is based on arbitrary “risk classifications.” Immigration bond is often higher than bails in criminal cases, imposing significant burdens on immigrants, their families, and their communities. Immigrants who cannot afford bond amounts are forced into incarceration by ICE where their religious rights are frequently ignored and they have few rights to due process. 

About Believers Bail Out

Believers Bail Out is a community-led effort to bail out Muslims in pretrial incarceration and ICE custody as a form of zakat. Zakat, one of the central tenants of Islam, is an annual tax on wealth. The Qur’an (9:60) specifies eight uses for zakat, including helping the poor and the needy and for the freeing of slaves or captives. People being held in pretrial incarceration because they can’t afford bail qualify for zakat.  By paying their bail and freeing them to address the charges against them, Believers Bail Out restores the presumption of innocence. It is in our capacity and our duty as Muslims to be a part of ending this unjust bail system that criminalizes poverty and is inherently racist in nature. 

Alongside providing bail and support for individuals released on bond starting in Chicago, home to the largest single-site jail in the United States, Believers Bail Out hosts fundraising iftars and teach-ins across the country to support efforts to abolish money bail and to raise awareness within Muslim communities on the injustices of the bail bond system, immigration bonds, and the broader prison-industrial complex of which they form part.

The project focuses on three major areas of concern:

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The mutually reinforcing web of relationships, between and not limited to, prisons, the probation service, the police, the courts, government officials and all the companies that profit from transporting, feeding and exploiting prisoners. This web results in the far and wide ranging use of surveillance, policing and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems.

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A global phenomenon, that intersects and overlaps with other forms of discrimination, which identifies Muslims as racial and religious “others.” As a consequence of being seen as an “other,” Muslims are targets of systemic inequality and violence in both interpersonal and institutional interactions.

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Historic and contemporary attitudes, ideas, policies and practices that are built upon and reproduce the dehumanization of Black people. Anti-Blackness makes Black people primary targets of everyday and state-sanctioned violence and structural inequality.