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Orange County Bail/Bond Justice Project donates funds toward other court assistance

Kimberly Brewer, chair of the Orange County Bail/Bond Justice, stands at the Chapel Hill Public Library between meetings on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019.

The Orange County Bail/Bond Justice Project is donating 20 percent of its fund to other types of court assistance after a sharp decrease in detentions this past year. 

These reallocated funds, which usually go toward paying bail for qualified Orange County residents, will help pay court costs and fees, transportation costs and jail-related fees, such as telephone calls. 

There is already an existing debt relief program that covers residents of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. The funds from the Bail/Bond Justice Project will help that program cover people in Orange County who don't live in those towns. 

“Our whole focus is on how do we keep people out of detention, and how do we keep people from having a repetitive, revolving door with the justice system,” Anna Richards, third vice president for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, a partner of the project, said. “And a large part of that is making sure they make their court dates and they are able to cover court costs and fees.”

The expanded assistance program will kick off in early May, and there is an application for assistance. 

The Orange County Bail/Bond Justice Project launched in 2019 as a faith-based initiative funded by a partnership of churches and private donations. The project helps post bail and provides assistance to people who need it.

“Our goal is really to achieve a more just pretrial and bail system in Orange County,” Chairperson Kimberly Brewer said. 

The fund has amassed about $57,000, Brewer said. It became operational last March —  right when the pandemic struck. 

To qualify for the fund, Orange County residents must be charged in Orange County courts; they can’t have a bond hold from another court, and the bail can’t be greater than $5,000. Other factors — like domestic violence cases and restraining orders — are considered, Brewer said. 

In 2020, there was a reduction in the number of people being detained, which Brewer said caused demand for the bail fund to fall lower than expected. Only two bails have been funded by the project — one for $5,000 and one for $100. 

In its quarterly report, the Orange County Bail/Bond Justice Project also released data on citations and arrests in 2020 for the Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough Police Departments. The study excluded traffic citations. 

From March to September 2020, there were 68 to 75 percent reductions in people being detained pretrial.

“The single greatest factor is COVID,” Hillsborough Police Chief Duane Hampton said. “We were essentially not making any custodial arrests if we could avoid it.”

Hampton said there was a lot less self-initiated contact. Officers would try to call people on the phones first, and there were limits to the number of traffic stops. 

“We were trying to limit officers' contact both to reduce their risks but also to reduce the risk of them transmitting something to the community,” Hampton said. “Especially early on, there was a very significant limitation to the amount of activity.”

The percentage of citations per month compared to the percentage of arrests did not increase in 2020. This is something the Orange County Bail/Bonds Justice Project is looking to improve, Brewer said.

“If a law enforcement officer is going to take an enforcement action, there’s still a real opportunity to increase the use of citations over arrests,” she said. 

The report also included data that showed that for all three towns, there was a higher percentage of police cases involving citations and arrests with Black residents compared to their portion of the community. 

“We see this disparate results that fall along racial lines, but there are so many things at play,” Hampton said. “It’s difficult to figure out what is actually driving that and how we can influence it.”

Additionally, for Hispanics and Asians in all three towns, the likelihood of arrests per case — as opposed to citations — was higher.

“We feel that more study needs to be done to really see what kinds of practices and policies in our local police departments might be contributing to these disparities,” Brewer said. 

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The Orange County Bail/Bond Justice Project bail assistance fund application can be found here.


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