The majority of people incarcerated in the United States have not been convicted of any crime. Rather, they are there because they are too poor to pay their way out of jail. The financialization of the criminal legal system means that wealthy people go free while poor people suffer through indefinite detention or face an interest-bearing price of freedom: commercial bail bonds contracts, an industry worth more than $2 billion annually. Bail debt is held disproportionately by poor women of color who act as cosigners, bailing out the men in their family who are caged pretrial. The Debt Collective—the nation’s first debtors’ union—is piloting work to abolish $500 million in bail debt held by cosigners across California as a new form of collective action around carceral debt. We explore the concept of a carceral debtors’ union as part of broader debtors’ union and abolition movements.

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