Kerry Kennedy, Colin Kaepernick Commit $1 Million to Supporting Community Bail Funds


New York, NY (July 2, 2020)—Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp have committed $1 million to supporting community bail funds in their work to free people from jails—a mission that has only grown more urgent as coronavirus cases continue to soar, particularly among those incarcerated.

The Funds for Freedom partnership—expanding upon Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ Emergency Bail Out Action earlier this year—will start by targeting 10 cities across the country, immediately providing local organizers with the resources to release people caged in jails on unaffordable money bail as the threat of COVID-19 continues to rise behind bars.

Currently, the five largest clusters of COVID-19 are in jails and prisons, where deaths tied to the virus have shot up by 73% in recent months. This comes at a time when more than 10,000 people have been arrested in connection to protests condemning police brutality, further churning people through jails and increasing the risk of an outbreak that endangers the lives of those behind bars and could spread to the wider community.

Seventy percent of people in local jails—some 536,000 people on any given day—are forced to languish behind bars while they await their day in court, a cruel and unnecessary punishment that has been found to have devastating, long-term consequences. People detained in jail simply because they can’t afford their bail are four times more likely to be sentenced to prison than their wealthier peers. And as with most of the criminal legal system, this has disproportionately harmed the Black community. Not only are Black people overrepresented in jails but they’re also more likely to receive higher bail amounts, even though they are less likely to be able to afford it.

“Predatory cash bail is part and parcel of the institutionalized anti-Black racism that has plagued our country,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “This $1 million commitment from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp will empower community-led bail funds and accelerate their crucial work freeing people caged in our local jails, but our funding alone will never be enough. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ team of lawyers and advocates will work with local organizers to stop the aggressive policing and endless cycle of mass incarceration that have targeted poor and Black communities and move to end cash bail now.”

“Our legal system unjustly criminalizes our Black and Brown communities, penalizing poverty under the guise of keeping our communities safe,” said Colin Kaepernick, founder of Know Your Rights Camp. “We must reimagine the current system and abolish wealth-based detention, freeing our brothers, sisters and siblings from a racist system.”

While some bail funds in larger cities have seen substantial increases in donations, many local efforts remain in need of additional support in this critical moment to rapidly decarcerate jail populations. Through careful research, the Funds for Freedom partnership will target and deploy resources to the most critical areas of need, including Fort Worth where the local jail has had deaths tied to the coronavirus as its jail population has grown.

“We knew that we had to act as a community to go in and get our people,” said Pamela Young, criminal justice lead organizer of United Fort Worth. “Because there are now two pandemics we’re fighting: COVID-19, and mass incarceration strengthened by unjust money bail practices—and unfortunately, the local powers that be have been reluctant to free people in light of either pandemic.”

“There is an urgency that I feel when it comes to getting people out of a cage. One hour, or two, or three in a jail cell—it can traumatize you for life, and the risks are even greater now with COVID-19 in jails across the nation,” said Rahim Buford, manager of the Nashville Community Bail Fund. “Of the 1,000 people we’ve freed since 2016, over half of those cases were ultimately not prosecuted. Had they stayed in jail, they would’ve more than likely pled guilty.”

Know Your Rights Camp

We are a free campaign for youth, founded by Colin Kaepernick, to advance the liberation and well-being of Black and Brown communities through education, self-empowerment, mass-mobilization and the creation of new systems that elevate the next generation of change leaders. In response to the current communities needs, the Know Your Rights Camp COVID-19 Relief Fund was established in March 2020. Hundreds of years of structural racism is making Black and Brown communities more vulnerable to the coronavirus. Black and Brown people are more likely to be infected, less likely to be tested, less likely to be treated, and more likely to die from COVID-19. The Know Your Rights Camp Legal Defense Initiative was established in May 2020 and has identified and teamed up with top defense lawyers and civil rights lawyers nationwide to provide legal resources for those in need.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

We are a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that has worked to realize Robert F. Kennedy’s dream of a more just and peaceful world since 1968. In partnership with local activists, we advocate for key human rights issues, championing changemakers, and pursuing strategic litigation at home and around the world. And to ensure change that lasts, we foster a social-good approach to business and investment, and educate millions of students about human rights and social justice.