Faith leaders in Dallas County, Texas say their efforts to help bail people out of jail are hitting roadblocks with the sheriff's department and it's "sparking" a standoff between them.
Faith in Texas (FIT) is in the middle of a month-long effort to help make bail payments for those who are "stuck in jail because they can't afford bail."
FIT leaders say they are running the special program in August to highlight problems with the Dallas County bail system - calling it broken - and to "expose elected officials" they say are profiting from it.
The Civil Rights Corps (CRC) represents FIT and says the organization tried to bail out 16 people last week only to face a "bizarre stall tactic by the clerk." CRC says FIT arrived with checks to pay the bail as it had been doing, only to be told they would need to pay with cash.
"Organizers were forced to leave the facility, locate a bank, and return to the jail with the money - a total of over $21,000 - in cash. Had the banks closed before the organizers arrived, the presumptively innocent individuals would have remained caged until Monday at the earliest," the CRC news release stated.
Both FIT and CRC believe that allowing people to bail out of jail, since they are "innocent until proven guilty," is the right thing to do because they can reunite with their families and go back to work. However, affording bail is a big issue for many low-income people who remain behind bars before awaiting a hearing or trial.
"No member of our community should be held in prison simply because they cannot afford to buy their release," said Brittany White with FIT.
CRC joined a federal class-action lawsuit against Dallas County, Texas, the sheriff, and the county judges, arguing that unfair bail practices violate the constitutional rights of those arrested "just because they cannot afford to pay money bail."
The group also accuses the county of "conducting bail hearings in secret." FIT wants Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown to have bail bond hearings open to the public because "having communal support during bail hearings has been proven to humanize the defendant and remind the judge that their decisions have great impact and consequence for many people."
FIT and CRC believe there's a "discriminatory system where people must pay for freedom on terms set, on a whim, by jail clerks."
"What happened today illustrates just how arbitrary the bail system really is," said Elizabeth Rossi, an attorney with the Civil Rights Corps. "Despite the fact that the folks bailed out today managed to access cash bail through local groups, they were still denied release and kept behind bars longer for no reason."
The county and sheriff's department is under fire over the issue.
"The sheriff's department is aware of the specific incident and are looking into the matter. We are reviewing the process to ensure and facilitate a timely release of individuals when it is appropriate," Raul Reyna with the sheriff's Public Information Office told CBN News.
FIT and churches that support its work believe that the criminal justice and legal system could use "much-needed reform." They are working to train lay leaders in local churches, mosques, and synagogues to help with projects like this to bring justice to people in low and moderate income faith communities.