RFK Human Rights, Michigan Liberation Free People From Jail as Coronavirus Concerns Rise


Detroit (May 29, 2020)—Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Michigan Liberation have taken urgent action to reduce jail populations in Detroit as the coronavirus continues to spread, releasing 16 people held in pretrial detention simply because they cannot afford to pay their bail.

Michigan has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country with more than 64,000 people locked up across its facilities. Though many of these people are presumed innocent and are needlessly languishing behind bars, local officials have been slow to release them—increasing undue exposure to the virus among those incarcerated, the jail staff, and the wider community.

“Detroit’s cash bail system unjustly punishes the poor, subjecting them to days, weeks, if not years behind bars on unproven charges purely because they can’t afford their freedom,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “COVID-19 urgently magnifies the steep price of pretrial detention, which has harmed poor, black and brown communities for far too long, and we, as a human rights organization, won’t stand idly by in the face of such abuse.”

Michigan has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus, with more than 56,000 confirmed cases and climbing. This has deeply impacted the African American community, who account for 35% of coronavirus cases and 40% of deaths, even though less than 15% of the population is black.

“The criminal legal system has become even more cruel during this pandemic, with decisions that regularly destroyed lives now carrying a death sentence,” said Meredith Loomis Quinlan, executive co-director of Michigan Liberation. “In Metro-Detroit, we’ve seen firsthand how this frequently and disproportionately affects the black community, forcing people who haven’t been convicted of anything to risk exposure to a deadly virus because they can’t pay $500. This is hideous and we must end cash bail.”

“Michigan Liberation couldn’t take this on alone,” Loomis Quinlan said. “We are grateful to RFK Human Rights, the National Bail Out, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, Detroit Justice Center, Mothering Justice, numerous local partners, and amazing grassroots donors who have supported these bailouts.”

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, 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.

Michigan Liberation
We are a statewide network of people and organizations dedicated to ending the criminalization of Black families and communities of color in Michigan. We promote changes in all areas of the criminal legal system—including courts, prosecutors, policing, prisons, juvenile systems, re-entry and diversion programs, and parole—and conduct grassroots organizing, leadership development, lobbying and support for candidates that share our vision for Michigan.