Jay Z Blasts ‘Exploitative’ US Bail Industry in Father’s Day Essay

Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Spike
Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Spike

Jigga Jay Z, riding high from his induction in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and possibly bouncing two new babies at his knee, took on a far more somber topic in a recent Father’s Day essay.


With a byline that reads “Shawn Carter,” Jay strongly spoke out in Time magazine against the current U.S. bail system, which on any given day jails over 400,000 people convicted of no crime “because they cannot afford to buy their freedom.”

Though Jay Z is by all measures a genius, the words do not seem to be quite his (especially if you read his tweets during the Hall of Fame induction), but no matter; the sentiment is pure.

Jay begins talking about how he came to really see the devastation of the current U.S. bail system through the story of teen Kalief Browder, who spent more than three years in jail—without being convicted of a crime, mostly in solitary confinement—because his family could not afford to bail him out. Jay Z produced a recent six-part documentary on Browder for Spike TV.

He also says he is going to support the National Father’s Bail Out Day campaign this year. He continues:

When black and brown people are over-policed and arrested and accused of crimes at higher rates than others, and then forced to pay for their freedom before they ever see trial, big bail companies prosper. This pre-incarceration conundrum is devastating to families. One in 9 black children has an incarcerated parent. Families are forced to take on more debt, often in predatory lending schemes created by bail bond insurers. Or their loved ones linger in jails, sometimes for months—a consequence of nationwide backlogs. Every year $9 billion dollars are wasted incarcerating people who’ve not been convicted of a crime, and insurance companies, who have taken over our bail system, go to the bank.

Last month for Mother’s Day, organizations like Southerners on New Ground and Color of Change did a major fundraising drive to bail out 100 mothers for Mother’s Day. Color of Change’s exposè on the for-profit bail industry provides deeper strategy behind this smart and inspiring action. This Father’s Day, I’m supporting those same organizations to bail out fathers who can’t afford the due process our democracy promises. As a father with a growing family, it’s the least I can do, but philanthropy is not a long fix, we have to get rid of these inhumane practices altogether. We can’t fix our broken criminal justice system until we take on the exploitative bail industry.

Ms. Bronner Helm is the Senior Editorial Director at Colorlines. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.


The ability to “make bail” has an enormous, and at times all-encompassing impact on indigent people’s ability to contest the case against them at trial, and pretrial motions such as a motion to suppress an unlawful search, etc.

If your trial is months or years out, and you are looking at a 30 day sentence for conviction, then pleading out is a choice of evils. Then that conviction gets used against you later. Think about how that impacts “three strikes” rules n CA.

I have literally spoken with prisoners in soledad—-one of CA’s worst level 4 facilities where every day is a fight for survival—-who are serving a three strikes life sentence for stealing a pizza (crimes get charged and interpreted such that pulling a box out of a delivery person’s hand becomes robbery—-use of force—-in addition to theft).

This pretrial release issue, while more discussed lately, still does not get enough attention. Well done, Jay Z.