Chicago Southside Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL) and Appleseed Take A Stand Against Money
The basis of season 5 episode 5: "The Pre-Trial Fairness Act," is a legal document that host, Elaine Sutton, describes as 'a very comprehensive' effort where Chicago (SOUL) and Appleseed maintain a coalition to oppose money bonds with over 100 organizations.
The Act does away with the systemic methods that hold innocent people and those with petty crimes in imprisonment. “The bill is structured so that several people in jail can go down,” said show guest Sarah Staudt, Director of Policy at Chicago Appleseed. For some crimes, jail is not necessary. Staudt also mentioned that some people are, inescapably, kept in prison for racist reasons.
This episode also featured Saint Louis University graduate A'Keisha Lee (MPH-HMP '19). A local organizer with Chicago Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL). The South-side organization operates on a non-discriminatory level, fighting for the sun to shine on the rights of everyone to have access to basic housing, food, and shelter. SOUL prioritizes the fulfillment of the needs of people of color. Lee has been gravitating towards community organizing work for a long time. Among her tasks for SOUL, Lee researches policies, talks to people in the community, writes press releases, and organizes protests.
As an advocate with the YWCA program for sexual assault victims at Saint Louis University (SLU) helped Lee develop skills in the fields of public health and advocacy. And her work canvassing for Medicaid expansion prepared her for visiting door-to-door. During an internship at Better Family Life, a community development non-profit in St. Louis, Lee developed her passion for justice. Ms. Lee attributes Dr. Rhonda BeLue's very individualized approach to mentorship to her time at SLU. One of Lee's favorites in the School of Social Work is Dr. Stephen McMillan for his "wonderful style." She advises current SLU students to consider opportunities "outside of traditional health care." Staudt also shared that these collective efforts "[w]as a very long process." She shared that the organization around ending money bonds in Illinois started almost a decade ago.
The first group of organizations was called the Coalition to End Money Bond, a county group, in 2015-16 Chicago. The organization quickly learned that the issues and repercussions of money bonds overlap with Chicago because Illinois is a big state. Staudt claims that the approach helps them stay on the same page and "join hands." Similarly, an African village references the principles it set to sustain its purpose of humanity. Therefore, the coalition of organizations meets frequently and organizes itself effectively, driven by the aim of being unified in their mission to end money bonds.
Staudt described reaching unity as a labor of love, “When we accomplished the direction we could rely on, we continued to ask: ‘What did we all agree? What are our guiding principles?” She shared that they have amazing organizers who can reach a consensus. When asked: "What do the 100+ organizations do to agree on the direction and operation of the coalition?" Staudt explained; that they set out to understand the principles of money bonds and how each is challenged. Therefore, serving as a compass to consensus.
She elaborated on how the collective of organizations set up responses that were common answers to the problems that they foresaw. This was primarily because of the diversification of the cause, and movement. Some organizations are in criminal justice and others are not.
Lee responded to Ms. Sutton's question about her role in this campaign. She held that hers was the role of a teacher. She educates but also advocates for the rights of people of color on the South and West sides in addition to forming part of the collective that teaches them how this law will impact them now and in the future.
"We go where they are. We go to schools." Ms. Lee responded when asked how they reach the youth. Staudt gave the synopsis of what the Act is by saying it eliminates the money bond and ensures that as few people as possible are in jail.
"Eliminating money bonds is great," said Staudt. "But if what we do does not decrease the number of people in jail, we haven’t succeeded." The bill is structured to ensure that the total number of people in jail decreases.
Staudt did mention that they, as organizations, do take arrests for new felonies very seriously. Lee added that "the key changes impact human beings."
She mentioned that changing the system would ensure that spaces are people-friendly and people-oriented. One of the infractions that she noted that people get arrested for is warrants issued to them and they're unaware or didn't receive notification of the warrant.
The audience joined the discussion by asking, "Does this affect anyone or everyone? Is juvenile justice on the way up? " Staudt said they target adults, therefore, people over 18. She added that “we cannot be funding our courts on the backs of people who have not been found guilty of a crime. That cannot be the way”.
Lee posits an intriguing question, “Is it a punishment that gets you better, or is it community support?”
Watch the full episode on our YouTube channel.