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Currently, the United States is undergoing historic criminal justice reform. Cash bail is one component being reviewed and eradicated, generating change in a system that has been intact not just for decades, but centuries. This is the third in a series of articles written specifically for SWOP Behind Bars (SBB) by a guest panel of authors on the history of cash bail, and the algorithms defining the future:

COYOTE RI Bella Robinson Op / Edu On Sex Work & Bondsmen Bias

Though I have not dealt with a bondman in over a decade, my contribution concentrates on my experience with how bail bondsmen discriminate against prostitutes and sex workers.

In 2005 I had a 3000 bond so I needed 300 bucks and I called my ex-husband. When he went to the bondman they told him ” do you know she has a few prostitution convictions from years ago” ironically up until then I had never even had a failure to appear. Bondsman treat sex workers as if we are all drug addicts, doesn’t seem to matter how long has passed since sex workers last drug conviction. Yet when it comes to non sex workers with drug charges the bondsmen have no problem bonding them out, so it is kind of ironic that they discriminate against sex workers with drug charges beings that drug offenses make up a huge part of their business.

In more recent years the police often issue summons to appear for petty crimes, of course, this still requires one to be booked and processed, so it would be great if we had some data on how often people with prostitution-related charges vs other petty crimes are offered a summons to appear.

I think another important part of this narrative is that when poor people can’t afford to bond out on a bond, they can be held for months, and this causes many of them to lose their apartments, cars and jobs so they are future displaced.

I think bonds should only be used for violent crimes.

Recently I traced about 50 prostitution cases and their outcomes in RI from aug -sept 2017. While the majority of the women arrested are white women who are chronically homeless, and many have been on the housing wait list for a long time, the judge was still fining them on an average of 446.75 per offense.

I think fines should be adjusted by taking into account how much wealth the person has.

As example? When you rape a woman behind a dumpster and your family can afford to pay the 1,000 fine, that’s not much of a punishment. Yet the system is set up to fine poor people for jaywalking, panhandling, trespassing and all kinds of petty crimes. ##

Bella – SWOP Behind Bars (SBB) AGREES! A punitive system that sets individuals up to fail through cyclical states of victim enabling as a result of guaranteed recidivism and through dependency on social services is why we support efforts for criminal justice reform that include sex worker perspectives.

Bella Robinson is a sex worker’s rights activist who has worked in the sex industry for over thirty years. She founded the Rhode Island Chapter of Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics (COYOTE RI) in 2009 and has served as the executive director since.  As the director of COYOTE RI, Bella looks to build and strengthen support networks for sex workers in Rhode Island and she works in close collaboration with activists nationwide. Bella is a strong proponent of centering the voices of sex workers in policies that affect our population. In the late 90’s she was formerly incarcerated for five years at Lowell Correctional Institute in Florida, and during incarceration experienced sexual assault at the hands of the state. It is with this perspective that she advocates for sex worker rights as a solution to policies that seek carceral redress for sex trafficking crimes. Her personal experiences with the criminal justice system over the past four decades give her unparalleled expertise in the areas of sex trafficking and sex worker rights.

For more information: http://coyoteri.org