The Minnesota Senate passed a bill Friday to stop charitable organizations from posting bail on behalf of repeat violent criminals.
This legislation addresses a highly specific but increasingly relevant scenario that has played out time and time again with disastrous consequences over the last year. Since the 2020 George Floyd riots, charitable bail organizations have grabbed headlines as they leveraged donated money to post cash bail for both demonstrators and unrelated violent offenders alike. Perhaps the most notable of these groups is the Minnesota Freedom Fund (MFF), which enjoys the support of Vice President Kamala Harris.
Now, Minnesota Republicans intend to bar such groups from “side-stepping Minnesota’s criminal justice system [by] bailing out violent and repeat offenders who put victims and the public at risk,” per the caucus.
“Over the past year, we have seen a spike of charities in the business of bailing people out of jail and bailing out criminals with violent histories with zero discretion or pause to consider the unintended consequences of their actions,” said state Sen. Mark Koran, R-North Branch, who authored the proposed legislation.
Koran’s bill does not effect the way bail is handled for the overwhelming majority of alleged criminals. “People charged with crimes remain eligible for bail through traditional bail programs,” per the Senate Republican Caucus. “This [bill] will only limit those criminals with a violent history or charge from being bailed out by organizations dedicated to emptying jails.”
One example of such a person might be Lionel Timms, who was arrested for assault, freed by the MFF and then proceeded to assault somebody else, leaving his victim with a traumatic brain injury.
The fund did not acknowledge that its actions led to the second assault. Rather, it released a statement claiming it operates “within the confines of a criminal justice system that is often unjust and unfair, overwhelmingly to Black, brown and Native peoples.” It went on to declare that “the criminal justice system failed,” not the people who decided to bail Timms out.
“I often don’t even look at a charge when I bail someone out,” the president of MFF’s board, Greg Lewin, once conceded. “I will see it after I pay the bill because it is not the point. The point is the system we are fighting.”
The fund has also freed people accused of attacking and shooting at police officers, a man accused of raping a child, a twice-convicted rapist, and many domestic abusers with histories of domestic abuse.
A victim pleaded with lawmakers earlier this year to “help me protect my family and my community from the irresponsible behavior of funds like these.”
Meanwhile, Democrats seem to stand firm in their support of the fund and opposition to Koran’s bill.
In a Senate debate about regulating charitable bail organizations, Sen. Jennifer McEwen, DFL-Duluth, repeatedly declared that “the Minnesota Freedom Fund is doing God’s work.”
“We disagree [with McEwen] and passed a bill to stop Charitable Bail Orgs from returning violent criminals back to the street,” said the Senate Republicans.