WASHINGTON COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA) — A nationwide program is being used in Northwest Arkansas to help reduce overcrowding at the Washington County Jail.
The Bail Project is the first of its kind in the Natural State and in its three weeks operating in Northwest Arkansas, it’s been able to pay for 20 people to walk out from behind bars.
It’s a get out of jail free card, but it’s not for just anyone.
“We’re identifying folks who are in jail on $5,000 or less and they’re in jail only because they cannot afford to pay that bond to be released,” said Madeline Porta, a bail disruptor for The Bail Project.
The Bail Project is working to end mass incarceration nationwide by footing the inmate’s bail while they’re waiting on their court date.
“What we do is we operate a revolving bail fund,” said Porta.
This is how it works; It takes money collected from a previous recipient who shows up to court and uses it to let someone else out of the jail.
While Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder appreciates the project, it leaves him with questions.
“The unknown in this project is…okay, so let’s say that person determines on their own, which is going to happen, ‘okay I’m not coming back to court. I’m out of here,” he said. “Those volunteers, are they in a position that they’re going to track these people down and bring them back to face their day in court, or are they just going to forfeit the money?”
Irvin Camacho, one of the two local bail disruptors for the project, said if a person is bailed out and doesn’t show up to court, his team loses money.
But, the organization does everything it can to choose someone likely to show up and give them the resources they need to do so.
“We ask them if they do need help, or if they have reliable transportation…and we do realize there is a need for transportation,” Camacho said.
Sheriff Helder said, “Somebody is standing up and posting bond for these people, accepting responsibility. They’re saying ‘judge, I’m putting my money up and telling you that I’m going to stand behind this person and they’re going to be back to court.'”
Camacho said not having someone on the outside with the funds to pay bail shouldn’t take a toll on a person’s everyday life.
“The fact that they don’t have to miss a workday. They can be with their families and they can continue with their life and then come take care of their business,” he said. “That’s super important to us and we’re very glad to be able to provide that opportunity to them.”