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As a social worker, I have spent my career fighting for a safer Kentucky, which is why I am fighting against the “Safer Kentucky Act”. Don’t let the name deceive you, this bill will not make Kentuckians safer – in fact, it will do the opposite.

The “Safer Kentucky Act” places harmful restrictions on charitable bail organizations and limits the availability of financial assistance that the poorest and most vulnerable Kentuckians rely on. While, those with money will continue to be able to buy their freedom – despite bail amounts or severity of allegations – those who are poor will remain incarcerated in already overcrowded jails – despite their American right to the presumption of innocence. This is why I testified in opposition to the “Safer Kentucky Act” during a Kentucky House Judiciary Committee hearing, alongside fellow community advocates, policy experts, and grassroots organizations. 

Here is what I said.

Good morning. My name is Carrie Cole and I am the Kentucky Policy Advocacy and Partnership Manager for The Bail Project. I grew up in Louisville and work here in Kentucky. This is my home. 

The Bail Project is a national nonprofit organization that is dedicated to restoring the presumption of innocence by advocating for the elimination of cash bail – the practice of tying a person’s pretrial liberty to money. The Bail Project has operated branches in nearly two dozen cities in the United States and has provided free bail assistance to nearly 30,000 low-income residents nationally. In addition to posting bail for free for low-income individuals, The Bail Project gathers evidence from its intervention to inform policy making on matters of pretrial justice and pretrial incarceration.

The Bail Project operated a charitable bail organization in Louisville from 2018 to 2023, where we provided free bail assistance to over 4,200 Kentuckians. By our estimates, our work in Kentucky prevented, on average, 37 days in jail per person, which amounted to more than 200,000 total jail days averted and as much as $15 million taxpayer dollars saved through reduced jail administration costs. While preventing the unnecessary incarceration that results from wealth-based detention, our clients in Louisville returned to 91% of their court dates, lending crucial evidence to the idea that cash bail is unnecessary to ensure that someone returns to court. 

Cash bail creates a two-tiered system of justice that benefits the rich and disadvantages those without money, upending the fundamental principle in our justice system that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Charitable bail organizations provide an essential service that Kentuckians cannot afford to lose with the bail system in its current form. That is why we come today in staunch opposition to House Bill 5 – the Safer Kentucky Act. What the bill sponsors, and supporters of this legislation fail to understand is that the provisions outlined in this bill will not protect public safety, but instead, work against it. 

House Bill 5 is unfair and un-American, subverting the presumption of innocence. It would prohibit charitable bail organizations from posting bail amounts of $5,000 or more and prevent them from supporting people charged with a variety of alleged offenses. Effectively, this is a doubling-down on the two-tiered, wealth-based nature of the cash bail system in Kentucky. It privileges wealthy people who will still be able to pay to secure their freedom – regardless of underlying safety concerns – over poor people. Additionally, this legislation contains an overly broad definition of “charitable bail organizations” with onerous restrictions that might apply even to churches or a Mom-and-Pop shop putting up a GoFundMe to support their son.

We all deserve to be safe, but legislation like the Safer Kentucky Act cannot deliver on that promise because it entrenches policies fueling mass incarceration, which will only harm the poorest and most vulnerable Kentuckians. Instead of introducing legislation to provide funding for necessary preventative services that address unmet needs like unemployment, housing insecurity, mental illness and addiction – all of which are root causes for justice-system involvement – House Bill 5 contains a myriad of misguided provisions, including regulations of charitable bail organizations, which will only harm the most disadvantaged and already vulnerable Kentuckians in the state. 

We all deserve to be safe, no matter what we look like, where we come from, or how much money is in our wallets.

Thank you.

The “Safer Kentucky Act” cannot deliver on the promise of safer communities, and instead offers misguided solutions by limiting access to charitable bail, deepening divisions created by wealth-based detention, and fueling mass incarceration. 

The proven and attainable solution – addressing the root causes of justice-system involvement – is work already underway in our communities. The Bail Project, along with partners across the state, stand ready to work with legislators to achieve our shared goal of safety and justice for all Kentuckians. This is the fight for a safer Kentucky that I remain committed to, a fight that the “Safer Kentucky Act,” if it becomes law, will always lose. 

Thank you for reading and your willingness to engage in a complicated and urgent issue. In addition to providing immediate relief by offering bail assistance, we at The Bail Project are working to advance systemic change. Policy change doesn’t happen without the support of people like you. If you found value in this article, please consider taking action today by donating.

Kentucky Policy Advocacy and Partnerships Manager

Carrie Cole

Carrie Cole (she/her/hers) is the Kentucky Policy Advocacy and Partnerships Manager at The Bail Project. In this role, she is responsible for executing community engagement and advocacy strategies to advance legislation that improves pretrial justice in Kentucky. Ms. Cole previously held the titles of Bail Disruptor and Operations Manager at The Bail Project, where she managed client caseloads and oversaw the release of thousands of Kentuckians from pretrial incarceration. Prior to joining The Bail Project, Ms. Cole served within the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services helping families navigate the foster care system. She received both her B.A. and M.S. in social work from the University of Louisville.

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