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Mutual aid in challenging punishment

By Emily Brenner, June 2022

Mutual aid is collective support that aids citizens where the state fails to; where instead of relying on authoritative bodies, community members come together on their own to offer support instead.  Mutual aid in Scotland is often associated with community assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns. Community-based groups throughout the country arose with the explicit purpose of bridging gaps between people at risk of the pandemic and the resources they needed.

In the United States, mutual aid has been particularly beneficial as a tactic in helping people who have been arrested to afford their bail and get released. Though far from a new practice, the protests and demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd increased attention on mutual aid to afford cash bail set for those arrested at protests. Widespread mutual aid highlighted the classist barriers which allowed the individuals who could afford bail to leave jail after their arrest– whereas those who couldn’t were awaiting trial in a cell. Now, states like New Jersey, New York, and California are reforming the practice, while Illinois has abolished cash bail entirely. Cash bail has put people in the US who were arrested and awaiting trial in a difficult position, having to choose between sacrificing a significant amount of money, at a high cost to them and their families, and freedom as they fight any charges.

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