Jay Z tackles the injustices of the American prison system and the business it propagates in a new op-ed for Time. In his essay, the rapper writes that since producing Time: The Kalief Browder Story, he has become “obsessed with the injustice of the profitable bail bond industry.”
“On any given day over 400,000 people, convicted of no crime, are held in jail because they cannot afford to buy their freedom,” he writes. “When black and brown people are over-policed and arrested and accused of crimes at higher rates than others, and then forced to pay for their freedom before they ever see trial, big bail companies prosper.”
Inspired by the fundraising drives from Southerners on New Ground and Color of Change that bailed out mothers on Mother’s Day, Jay Z wrote that he will be donating to those organizations to bail out fathers this Sunday on Father’s Day. “As a father with a growing family, it’s the least I can do, but philanthropy is not a long fix, we have to get rid of these inhumane practices altogether,” Jay Z writes before concluding with, “We can’t fix our broken criminal justice system until we take on the exploitative bail industry.”
On Thursday night, Jay Z became the first rapper to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In a video played at the ceremony, President Obama congratulated the rapper and acknowledged him as a kindred spirit, saying, “We know what it’s like not to come from much and to know people who didn’t get the same breaks that we did.”
Read Jay Z’s full op-ed below.
Seventeen years ago I made a song, “Guilty Until Proven Innocent.” I flipped the Latin phrase that is considered the bedrock principle of our criminal justice system, ei incumbit probatio qui dicit (the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies). If you’re from neighborhoods like the Brooklyn one I grew up in, if you’re unable to afford a private attorney, then you can be disappeared into our jail system simply because you can’t afford bail. Millions of people are separated from their families for months at a time — not because they are convicted of committing a crime, but because they are accused of committing a crime.
Scholars like Ruthie Gilmore, filmmakers like Ava Duvernay, and formerly incarcerated people like Glenn Martin have all done work to expose the many injustices of the industry of our prison system. Gilmore’s pioneering book, The Golden Gulag, Duvernay’s documentary 13th and Martin’s campaign to close Rikers focus on the socioeconomic, constitutional and racially driven practices and polices that make the U.S. the most incarcerated nation in the world.
When black and brown people are over-policed and arrested and accused of crimes at higher rates than others, and then forced to pay for their freedom before they ever see trial, big bail companies prosper. This pre-incarceration conundrum is devastating to families. One in 9 black children has an incarcerated parent. Families are forced to take on more debt, often in predatory lending schemes created by bail bond insurers. Or their loved ones linger in jails, sometimes for months—a consequence of nationwide backlogs. Every year $9 billion dollars are wasted incarcerating people who’ve not been convicted of a crime, and insurance companies, who have taken over our bail system, go to the bank.
Last month for Mother’s Day, organizations like Southerners on New Ground and Color of Change did a major fundraising drive to bail out 100 mothers for Mother’s Day. Color of Change’s exposè on the for-profit bail industry provides deeper strategy behind this smart and inspiring action. This Father’s Day, I’m supporting those same organizations to bail out fathers who can’t afford the due process our democracy promises. As a father with a growing family, it’s the least I can do, but philanthropy is not a long fix, we have to get rid of these inhumane practices altogether. We can’t fix our broken criminal justice system until we take on the exploitative bail industry.