About the Bail Fund

The Problem

The ACLU of Hawai‘i has released a study showing that almost half of the people in Hawai‘i jails are pre-trial detainees who have not been convicted of the crimes for which they’ve been accused. This preliminary report, As Much Justice As You Can Afford – Hawaii’s Accused Face an Unequal Bail System, also reveals that the average bail amount in Honolulu for the lowest level felony is over $20,000. This means the primary reason so many people wait in jail for months is because they just cannot afford to get out while waiting for trial. The report is part of an ongoing, statewide investigation and analysis of how bail practices affect our local families and communities.

Legal Director Mateo Caballero:

Bail is not supposed to be punishment. Bail is supposed to minimize the risk of flight and danger to society while preserving the constitutional rights of the accused. Instead, our early findings show that the way bail is used in Hawai‘i does not serve any of these purposes. Instead, bail practices regularly cause people to waive their rights just to get out of jail. That is unjust and violates the constitution.

The preliminary report is based on an analysis of six months of public data and interviews with court officials. It captures a snapshot of how bail is used in Hawaii’s criminal justice system, typical outcomes for the accused, and how current practices affect overcrowding of local jails like the O‘ahu Community Corrections Center (OCCC). An update with a full year of data is planned for late 2018.

Executive Director Joshua Wisch added:

In practice, the way bail works in Hawai‘i means that if you’re wealthy you get out of jail while you wait for trial, and if you aren’t – you don’t. Almost half of the people in Hawai‘i jails have not been convicted of the crime for which they’ve been accused – they’re only in jail because they can’t afford bail. We hope this report will start a discussion about how we can improve this system.

The report follows ACLU community events in Hilo and Honolulu to discuss criminal justice reform concerns. Among the report’s findings, which have been provided to legislators, the judiciary, and the administration:

  • Money is required to bail out about 93% of the time on O‘ahu, 88% statewide.
  • Over 50% of those accused do not post bail, likely because they cannot afford it.
  • Of the almost 2,200 people held in Hawaii’s jails on any given day, about half are pre-trial detainees and they are held at a cost of $146/day per person.
  • Even if eventually allowed to go free without money bail while awaiting trial, the accused in Hawai‘i wait in jail an average of over 90 days before that hearing even happens, when most large counties in the country are able to release arrestees in 15 days or less.
  • Almost 70% of accused who changed their “not guilty” plea to a “guilty” plea did so while in pretrial custody, raising serious concerns for due process, bias, and fairness.

Read the full report here.

How the Fund Works

We are a revolving community bail fund. We pool money to pay bail for fellow
Hawai‘i residents. As their cases are resolved, the bail we paid revolves back
to the Fund, available to help other defendants in need. We do not require
anything of the individuals for whom we pay bail nor do we have a prior connection
to them, other than we all call Hawai‘i home.

From the National Bail Fund Network:

We see the potential for the work of bail funds to be the tip of the spear
for local and state policy reform within multi-pronged bail reform campaigns.

We believe that bail funds are a temporary intervention, not a permanent solution
to the mass injustices embodied by the criminal legal system. We believe that
bail funds can play a critical and immediate harm reduction role and have a
long and important history as a way for communities to push back on an unjust

In addition to their day-to-day work of freeing people and upholding the
presumption of innocence, we believe that bail funds can be a potentially
catalytic tool in the fight to end money bail and that their connection to
broader reform efforts is critical. As bail funds are contemplated as tools
of resistance in comprehensive campaigns to end cash bail, the Network works
with organizers and legal providers to learn from current and past bail fund
models and to serve a vehicle for experimentation and learning within larger
movement strategy.

The Hawaii Community Bail Fund is a project of the Democratic Socialists of Honolulu and allies. Email us to learn more about how you can get involved!

PO box 17156
Honolulu, HI 96817