“I wanted to know what mass incarceration was doing to women in this country,” said Gina Clayton, 34. As a public defender in New York City, Gina described the mothers and grandmothers that came into her office, broke and in debt from repeatedly covering bail for relatives.
As told to the LA Times, Clayton moved back to her home city of Los Angeles to explore how the bail system is affecting families of the more than 100,000 prisoners held in California. In 2014, she founded the Essie Justice Group, a civil rights and advocacy nonprofit that works as “a support network for women whose loved ones are in prison.”
Clayton holds sessions where the women can talk about their personal experiences and she teaches the women tips on navigating the bail system. Members talk about having a loved one incarcerated, and the burden of inheriting most responsibility meanwhile. They also discuss current issues like police brutality and racial profiling. The sessions provide free childcare and dinner.
Members of Essie Justice also attend legislative meetings, meet with lawmakers, and raise money to help legal cases. They hope to “persuade lawmakers to oppose a cash bail system they say adversely and disproportionately affects black women and Latinas.”
Essie Justice is fighting for a pending legislation that will take fixed fees out of court and assess criminals based on the threat they pose to the community, before handing out jail sentences— California prisons hit 135.8% capacity in 2015. On the other side, the bail industry, valued at over $2 billion dollars, has reportedly spent $170,000 this fiscal year on lobbying to oppose the legislation.
“Mass incarceration has isolated millions of women,” Clayton told the LA Times. “Women who look just like my grandmother and my great-grandmother and who face very similar challenges, but who also have so much of the same reserves of strength, same wisdom, same inherent dedication to family.”
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