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Indiana legislature passes charitable bail restrictions despite protests

Hoosier Action
More than 50 families spoke out against legislation that would restrict charitable bail funds during a protest at the Indiana Statehouse organized by Hoosier Action.

An Indiana bill that would restrict charitable bail funds is on its way to becoming law despite protests at the statehouse.

Charitable bail funds are groups that collect money to pay bail for those who can’t afford it. House Bill 1300 would make it more difficult for those groups to operate in Indiana by placing certain restrictions on them.

Indiana’s Senate passed the bill on Thursday, moving it into the final phases of the legislative process. It will head to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk for approval, after it’s signed by the House speaker and Senate president and reviewed by the attorney general.

“I think there are tons of people in Indianapolis who are scared to walk downtown,” said state Sen. Aaron Freeman, who sponsored the bill. “And that is an indictment on all of us. It is sad. Will this bill fix it? No. I’m not telling you it will. But it will help.”

Freeman, a Republican from Indianapolis, combined similar legislation he authored with HB 1300. It limits charitable funds to bailing out no more than two people every 180 days, unless they register with the state. It also places restrictions on who they can bail out.

Prior to the bill’s passage, Freeman engaged in a lengthy debate with fellow state Sen. Greg Taylor, a Democrat from Indianapolis.

Taylor criticized the bill for placing restrictions on charitable funds that don’t apply to traditional bail bondsmen. He argued it will ultimately cause crime to worsen by lengthening jail stays and making it harder for people with low incomes to access services offered by charitable bail funds.

“If charitable bail organizations don’t exist, folks, our jails are going to be more overcrowded than you think,” he said. “The caps that they put on here are egregious and they’re offensive.”

More than 50 families from across Indiana protested at the statehouse ahead of the vote. The demonstration was organized by Hoosier Action, a nonpartisan group that works to amplify the voices of citizens across the state.

New Albany resident Carissa Miller was one of the eight speakers to share personal stories in defense of charitable bail funds. She said her sister spent five months in jail without any mental health services because the family couldn’t afford bail.

“People are going to be stuck in jail for being poor and struggling with mental health issues and substance use disorder,” Miller said. “As a clinical social worker, I feel that we should follow best practice. And best practice is to get people that need treatment into treatment and not incarceration.”

Jerrica Hall, a Scottsburg resident, was arrested for drug possession in 2015. She was unable to pay her bail, which led to a prolonged jail stay that caused her to lose her car and apartment.

Hall, who is now four years sober, said many other Hoosiers face situations like hers, and restricting charitable bail funds will only harm them.

“It was all because I didn’t have the $500 to bond out,” she said. “I lost everything. And these [charitable bail funds] are here to help people like me. They offer services. They offer treatment. They offer counseling. They give you the right resources.”

A similar bill in Kentucky passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. It now goes to a full House vote.

John Boyle is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. John's coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by the Caesars Foundation of Floyd County, Community Foundation of Southern Indiana and Samtec, Inc.

John, News Editor for LPM, is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Email John at jboyle@lpm.org.