Professor Jocelyn Simonson Cited Nationally on Bail Funds


The numerous arrests made during the protests and curfews following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis have brought community bail funds to the fore after years of on-the-ground advocacy. In recent weeks, Professor Jocelyn Simonson, a leading scholar on the topic, has been cited, quoted, and published in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and numerous other outlets.

“When you stop and think about bail—about the fact that how much money you have is the thing that determines whether or not you’re in a cage—it appears intuitively unjust after about a half minute,” said Simonson in a feature-length story in The New Yorker. “Now everyone protesting is asking us to think about it for two minutes, and to consider all the different forms of the violence of the carceral state. Maybe we have these minutes, now that we’re sitting at home.”

Simonson’s 2017 paper, Bail Nullification, 115 Michigan Law Review 585 (2017), was also cited in the article, as well as in articles in The Atlantic and The Pavlovic Today. Bail nullification “exposes publicly what many within the system already know to be true” about the arrest process, which produces “guilty pleas and longer sentences when an individual cannot afford to pay their bail,” quoted The Atlantic.

An article in The Ringer examined social media’s role in the power of bail funds. “Simonson…said that the origins of the tradition root back to slavery, when black communities would quite literally pool their resources to buy their loved ones’ freedom. ‘To me, that corollary really rings true, especially when you think about contemporary abolitionist movements using that term—abolition—to really make us feel the connections between slavery and the carceral state.’”

In a bylined article in n+1, Simonson examines the history of bail funds, their recent emergence, as well as their limitations in effecting long-term change. “That it was protests that brought national attention to bail funds rather than the COVID crisis in jails and prisons tells us less about bail funds and more about our collective denial of the everyday devastation of incarceration and its impact on Black and brown bodies,” wrote Simonson. “It is a denial too many are willing to partake in until video footage and massive protests make it simply unignorable.”

At the Law School, Simonson teaches courses in criminal law, criminal procedure, evidence, and social change. She is co-director of the Center for Criminal Justice. Her scholarship explores ways in which the public participates in the criminal process and in the institutions of local governance that control policing and punishment. Her articles have appeared or are forthcoming in top law reviews, including the Yale Law JournalHarvard Law ReviewCalifornia Law ReviewColumbia Law Review, and Georgetown Law Journal. Her work has been cited in two U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

View Simonson’s interview with Dean Michael T. Cahill

Read the articles in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Ringer, and n+1.