The MN Freedom Fund is working to abolish the pretrial cash bail system. The non-profit covers the cost of bail so that people who’ve been arrested don’t have to stay in detention. Executive Director Mirella Ceja-Orozsco says the system disproportionately impacts communities of color.
“In the state of Minnesota, we are considered a right to bail state,” explained Ceja-Orozsco, “meaning that everyone has a constitutional right to bail, unless a judge has determined that you are of such a risk to society that you cannot be released that no amount of money can determine your eligibility for release. And we see it every day that there are individuals who have been charged with all kinds of charges. But the simple fact that they can afford to get out means that they are more worthy of being released from custody. And that's just not fair. If you have a constitutional right, you should have that constitutional right. And the money component should not be the determining factor.”
In addition, Ceja-Orozsco says the threat of pretrial detention leads people who are arrested to make poor decisions.
“They are more likely to take harmful plea deals. They're more likely to admit guilt for a crime they did not commit simply because they are afraid of what they stand to lose not being released from pretrial detention, and we've seen that that system does not work and is detrimental to those communities.”
In the two weeks following the murder of George Floyd, the MN Freedom Fund received $42 million in donations. Ceja-Orozsco says even if the organization had decided to spend it all at once, it wouldn’t have been enough to bail out everyone who was in Hennepin County Jail at that time. Instead, Ceja-Orozsco says they are using some of the funds to work on changing the system.
“So we know this system is designed with money in mind, right? And how much they can extract from individuals. And those who cannot afford to get out of detention are the ones that suffer the most harm, and are usually communities that are already significantly impacted by the criminal legal system and the harmful practices that it has.”
Ceja-Orozsco says that in 2021, a third of the people they helped had all of their charges dropped. But those people still face the stigma of having an arrest record, which affects their ability to qualify for jobs, housing, and loans.