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In Milwaukee, two people accused of the same crime face very different circumstances depending on their access to money. A person who cannot afford to pay bail will be detained  for weeks and months while someone with the funds to afford bail will remain free over this same period of time. Before sentencing, both individuals are legally presumed innocent until proven guilty. The difference is that one has been locked up before trial because one is too poor to afford bail while the other has remained free.

This system strips people who are poor of their presumption of innocence and causes great economic and psychological harm to them and their families. Justice is being denied in this way to thousands of people every year in Milwaukee.


Research shows that just three days in jail makes people more likely to lose their jobs and housing, be separated from their families, and commit crimes in the future.

Inability to pay bail forces people to plead guilty to get out of jail, even if they are innocent and the evidence against them is weak. 

Defendants are nine times more likely to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge if they cannot pay bail.

People who are held on bail receive longer sentences than those who can afford to post bail for the same crimes.

In Wisconsin, about one-third of all county jail inmates were locked up because they couldn't pay low-cash bail and the fastest growing population in Wisconsin jails are people incarcerated without a conviction.



Milwaukee Freedom Fund is advocating for the end of the cash bail system in Wisconsin and part of a larger movement to end pretrial detention. In Wisconsin, about one-third of all county jail inmates were locked up because they couldn't pay low-cash bail and the fastest growing population in Wisconsin jails are people incarcerated without a conviction. In addition to paying bail for the people most impacted by structural violence, Milwaukee Freedom Fund is engaged in popular education and coalition building to build power to achieve this goal.  Our organization is also a member of the National Bail Fund Network, where we learn, build and collaborate with bail funds across the country.


The City of Milwaukee has consistently spent 45+ percent of its general budget on policing and none of it has increased public safety. Policing and carceral spending does not resolve social problems.  Investment in housing, health care, basic income, arts, recreation, and youth programs is what is needed.  Milwaukee Freedom Fund is a partner in the Liberate MKE campaign to push Milwaukee to a more democratic account of public resources and less funding for police.  


Resisting police and state violence is a human right.  When the state can harm and terrorize with impunity, people have a duty and a right to protest this.  Milwaukee Freedom Fund was founded to support protesters and address the harm of the carceral system on our community. Milwaukee Freedom Fund helped protestors with bail, tickets, fines and legal fees; and shared “know your rights” and other civil rights information with protestors.  Even as we transition the focus of our work, we will always support the human right to resist oppression.  



What criteria does the Milwaukee Freedom Fund use in bail decisions?

Milwaukee Freedom Fund is currently unable to assist everyone who needs help paying bail. We use a variety of factors to determine whether to pay bail for someone who applies for our assistance.

Milwaukee Freedom Fund will use the following factors to evaluate whether we will assist someone who applies for our help paying bond:

  • Amount of bond to be paid

  • Inability to pay bond required, including lack of access to family or community resources

  • Existing support system, such as a family member or case manager who has committed to providing assistance

  • Risk of victimization in the jail, including but not limited to: gender identity and expression (namely transgender, gender non-conforming or LGBQI people), people with disabilities, and youth or elder status

  • Special health needs such as pregnancy, chronic medical conditions, or ongoing mental health treatment

  • Dependents or other family members who may be harmed by applicant’s detention, including risk of custody loss or Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) involvement

  • Immigration status and potential immigration consequences of a criminal conviction

  • Referral through or connection to established partner organization

  • Anticipated impact of detention on applicant’s employment, housing, educational attainment, and/or custodial rights

  • Position in relation to structural violence, community disinvestment, systemic racism, survival, and resistance

Additionally, we work with groups to pay bail for people arrested for political activism. NEED BAIL FOR A PROTESTER?

Are you letting bad people out of jail who will commit more crime?

People who are held in pretrial detention have not been convicted of any crime and are presumed innocent. Research shows that the vast majority of defendants who are free awaiting trial are not rearrested for new crimes. Of course, there will always be some risk that people out on bail commit crime. But that same risk exists today – people who can afford to post bail are released awaiting trial. The justice system does not work fairly when some people are detained because of their poverty. That is why we are working to move towards a system that is based on a presumption of release before trial.

By paying bail for people, will the Milwaukee Freedom Fund inadvertently inhibit bail reform?

We intend to do the exact opposite. Our model links direct bail assistance work with evaluation and strong advocacy for bail reform to end money bail. In fact, we believe paying bail for poor people is one of the strongest ways to protest the system and build evidence and political support for policy reform. If the Milwaukee Freedom Fund Fund is successful, it will cease to exist in the near future.

Bail Explained: Programs
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