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.
Let’s Get Free: Bail Debt, Pretrial Freedom, and Debtors’ Unions
Manuel Galindo is the son of two hardworking Salvadoran migrants, a south central LA native, a University of California, Berkeley graduate, and a community organizer and policy advocate. Currently he works as the carceral debt organizer for the Debt Collective, building collective power among carceral debtors to push systemic change.
Hannah Appel is associate professor of anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she also serves as the associate faculty director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy. A cofounder of the Debt Collective and mother of two, she is the author of The Licit Life of Capitalism: U.S. Oil in Equatorial Guinea and coauthor of Can’t Pay Won’t Pay: The Case for Economic Disobedience and Debt Abolition.
Manuel Galindo, Hannah Appel; Let’s Get Free: Bail Debt, Pretrial Freedom, and Debtors’ Unions. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 October 2022; 121 (4): 865–871. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-10066580
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