In New York Times Op-Ed, Professor Jocelyn Simonson Argues Bail Funds Promote Public Safety


Community bail funds, which pay money bail in criminal and immigration cases for those who cannot afford it, have recently received tremendous support, but a backlash has begun. Professor Jocelyn Simonson, an authority on criminal justice, counters this backlash in an op-ed in The New York Times written with Mary Hooks, co-director of Southerners on New Ground, pointing out that bail funds actually promote public safety.

“Bail funds promote public safety, in small, non-sensationalist ways: They free people from the violence of jail, and allow them to fight their cases while keeping their families, homes and jobs,” they write. “They build collective power by living out the ways in which the state should be supporting people in need rather than imprisoning them. Over time, this adds up to less violence and more security.”

Simonson and Hooks also condemn the backlash, which often takes the form of ads highlighting crimes committed by a single individual. “This kind of racist criticism is known as the ‘Willie Horton effect,’” they write. “A single act of violence, especially when connected to the dog-whistle of a Black man’s mug shot, is used to derail larger efforts at promoting safety outside of the criminal system. Focusing so intently on one act obscures the everyday mass violence that the criminal legal system does to millions of people.”

Simonson has spoken frequently on the topic of bail funds in recent months. Her 2017 paper, Bail Nullification, 115 Michigan Law Review 585 (2017), also has been cited in articles on the topic. 

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 Journal, Harvard Law Review, California Law Review, Columbia Law Review, and Georgetown Law Journal. Her work has been cited in two U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Read the op-ed 

Watch Simonson’s interview on bail funds and police reform in Law in Time of Crisis series