High bonds can make it tough on families, individuals

Apr. 28, 2013 @ 11:06 PM

Excessively high bonds are a factor in overcrowding at the Durham County Detention Facility, Maj. J.F. Couch of the Durham County Sheriff’s Office said during a meeting of the Durham branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on Sunday.

Couch spoke during a discussion organized to focus on racial disparities associated with selective drug enforcement. It was held at Faucette Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church on Charles Street. The forum included discussion about racial profiling, crisis intervention training for law enforcement and other issues.

“We need our young men, we need them in our community,” said Ruth Poole, a leader in the NAACP branch who said that she wants the association to help educate young men on how to act and declare their rights to avoid arrest.

Nia Wilson, executive director of the nonprofit SpiritHouse that works with low-income people, said at the forum that some people have subscribed to what she called the “personal responsibility” mantra that she said is focused on the “baby mama drama, the too-lazy-to-work, the where are their morals?”

“Our jails are full of our own children,” she said. “We are a community suffering from generational trauma. And yet, the first thing that we say often is, ‘where are the parents?’ Where are their morals?’ And we push ourselves away from our own children. … We are the victims of a generational war.”

Daryl Atkinson, staff attorney for the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice and a panelist in the forum, said he was previously incarcerated in Alabama for a non-violent, drug-related crime.  After his release in 2000, he said he was able to return to his family and had food, clothing, and shelter.

He spoke of the need for secondary support organizations for people who are released from prison, as well as for policies that he said would allow people to be successful.

Atkinson said he went on to get his associate’s degree, and later his law degree. He said he believes that there are too many people in the criminal justice system, which he said allows for discrimination against former inmates seeking employment, housing and other needs.

“We have a human rights tragedy on our watches,” he said.

In encounters with law enforcement, he said, young people need to “survive the encounter.”

“I encourage people to articulate clearly where (they) live, who their parents are, to possibly have some (identification),” he said. “Is it right, is it fair? No. But will it help them to survive the encounter?  Yes.”

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, an associate minister at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church and a co-founder of the Christian hospitality house Rutba House that’s located in the Walltown neighborhood, spoke about the impact of police activity in neighborhoods.

“The focus has been on these intensive drug campaigns that have taken so much of our money and that have cost us so much more than that, (they have) cost us the trust,” he said.

Couch spoke about how bonds are set in the county compared with other counties.

“I understand the concept of why a bond is in place – to ensure that they come to court,” he said. “These people cannot post a bond when it amounts to something so excessive and that bond does not fit the crime.”

He also said there can be lengthy wait times for trial, and said changing the way bonds are set in the county could reduce the prison population.

“They’ve been sitting in jail becoming bitter, I might add, because they think the whole system has turned (its) back on them,” he said. He said “we need to address the disparity between how bonds are set in this county especially (for) people of color.”

He referenced legislation pushed by Durham Mayor Bill Bell. Bell called last year for a $300,000 minimum bond in gun-related cases. Bell and City Attorney Patrick Baker then came up with a different proposal that got more local support.

The measure, which has cleared the N.C. Senate, would make it more difficult for someone charged with a felony or major misdemeanor to receive bond if he or she has been convicted of a similar crime in the previous five years.

“Bonds have been set high because people just got tired of crime,” Couch said.