Mural Exhibit Highlights Unjust Impact of Cash Bail System
Artist Journey Allen partnered with the OPPRC and Addis NOLA to unveil "Innocent Until Proven Guilty," an art installation highlighting the injustice of the cash bail system
A new art installation at Addis NOLA - a Black-owned restaurant that sits at the corner of Tulane and S. Broad - highlights the unjust impact of the cash bail system and the damage that it can do to families and to the New Orleans community.
Created by artist Journey Allen, “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” features a mother celebrating portions of New Orleans culture with her son and daughter. In the second panel, the mother is shown praying over a nearly-empty money jar, the words “Innocent until proven guilty” surrounding her in a colorful halo. Later, unable to meet the cash bail requirements, the mother is shown imprisoned. The consequences of this imprisonment surround the woman’s daughter in a negative spiral: loss of custody, unemployment, foreclosure, human suffering, homelessness, recidivism. “Cash bail negatively impacts our communities,” the mother’s halo now reads. Finally, the conclusion of the mural is the woman’s son, arrested, as he is forced to do what he must to care for his younger sibling on his own.
“Right now, and as it has always been, money bail disproportionately impacts Black families,” notes Sade Dumas, Executive Director of the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC), who partnered with Allen and Addis NOLA in the creation and unveiling of the new mural. “There are many people behind bars who are just sitting there because they can’t pay. They don’t pose a risk to public safety - they’re not criminals, they’re behind bars because they’re too poor to pay a fine or a fee.”
It’s a story played out over and over again across New Orleans. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, over 1,756 people were incarcerated in the New Orleans jail simply because they couldn’t afford bail. These are people who are “presumed innocent” - they have not been convicted of any crime.
“Sad to say that we have a system that is not beneficial to this community or this country as a whole,” says Councilmember Jay Banks, Chair of the New Orleans City Council Criminal Justice Committee. “The fact of the matter is that being poor does not make you a criminal. You should not have to have resources to get a fair shake in our justice system. Keeping people locked up because they can’t afford to pay to get out is asinine. This is something that we need to end, and end yesterday.”
According to the OPPRC, ending cash bail wouldn’t only be a small step toward justice - it would save taxpayers money. The significant reduction in the number of people incarcerated at the New Orleans jail would save the city between $3.7 and $8.3 million over the course of a single year.
The Vera Institute of Justice has a plan to make that happen. In 2019, they released Paid in Full: A Plan to End Money Injustice in New Orleans. The report highlights the reforms that have already been made and outlines 12 recommendations for ending the practice of cash bail in the New Orleans Criminal District Court. If the plan is implemented, New Orleans could be a leader in setting a new precedent for the nation.
“New Orleans is poised to become the first city in the nation to replace both money bail and conviction fees with a system that adequately funds and promotes safety and justice,” the report states.
Ultimately though, the mural - and the push to end cash bail - is about the people of New Orleans.
“It’s about our culture bearers because we applaud them, we’re excited about them, but they’re not exempt from the situation of cash bail,” Allen says.
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