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Two women chain themselves to the Durham jail gate to protest cash bail policy

#FreeBlackMamas campaign posts bond for five mothers and caregivers in Durham ahead of Mother’s Day

ABC11 reports on the annual #FreeBlackMamas campaign that posts bond for mothers and caregivers at the Durham County Detention Facility.
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ABC11 reports on the annual #FreeBlackMamas campaign that posts bond for mothers and caregivers at the Durham County Detention Facility.

Two organizers for advocacy group Southerners on New Ground chained themselves to a gate at the Durham County jail on Thursday afternoon.

Serena Sebring, the organization’s regional organizing manager, and Kyla Hartfield, an organizer for the state, chained themselves with locks and cables to a gate that law enforcement officials use to bring people to the jail after they are arrested.

Grace Nichols, a member of the organization, said the action is intended to bring attention to the cash bail system and to protest Durham’s recently released bail policy. About 20 others stood outside, sometimes chanting, sometimes holding an umbrella over the two people chained to the gate.

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Southerners On New Ground organizers Kyla Hartsfied, left, and Serena Sebring, chained themselves to a gate at the Durham County jail Thursday, May 9, 2019, as a Sheriff’s Office deputies attempt to speak with them about safety concerns. Virginia Bridges vbridges@newsobserver.com

On March 1, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson and Chief District Court Judge Pat Evans enacted a new bail policy that sets guidelines for magistrates and other judges to follow when considering whether someone charged with a crime should be held in jail or released before trial.

State law doesn’t allow judges to eliminate cash bonds, Hudson told The News & Observer, but the new Durham policy “de-emphasizes” cash bonds and highlights other options such as unsecured bonds, written promises to appear in court and electronic monitoring.

While some have expressed concern that the new bail policy goes too far in reducing the amount of money people have to put up before leaving jail, others — including Southerners on New Ground and other advocacy groups — say it doesn’t eliminate cash bail so it doesn’t go far enough.

Nichols said their concerns include the risk assessment used in the process to determine the amount of bail.

“We would like this risk assessment to be replaced with a needs assessment,” such as do they need a ride to court or childcare, Nichols said.

The women chained themselves to the gate around 12:30 p.m., Nichols said. About 3:15 p.m. a deputy attempted to speak to the women, asking what they want.

“You let every black mama in that jail out, we’ll unlock ourselves right now,” Sebring said.

The deputy attempted to explain that it was up to judges and other officials to set bail, but the protestors responded that the Sheriff’s Office has the keys to the cells.

For the past several years around Mother’s Day, Southerners On New Ground have raised money to pay the bail of African-American mothers in the jail.

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Virginia Bridges covers criminal justice in Orange and Durham counties for The Herald-Sun and The News & Observer. She has worked for newspapers for more than 15 years. In 2017, the N.C. Press Association awarded her first place for beat feature reporting. The N.C. State Bar Association awarded her the 2018 Media & Law Award for Best Series.


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