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Billy Penn is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on economic mobility. Read more at brokeinphilly.org or follow at @brokeinphilly.
Updated 1:55 p.m.
Ten Philly dads almost missed the chance to spend Father’s Day with their kids, until a local organization stepped in and deployed a crowdfunding effort to help them.
Criminal justice nonprofit Frontline Dads is running its first bailout program specifically geared toward the parenting holiday. On Thursday, executive director Reuben Jones coordinated the release of nearly a dozen fathers from Philly jails — so they could celebrate in person with their families this weekend.
“This is our opportunity to focus on fathers as caregivers of children,” Jones told Billy Penn. “Even though you may be incarcerated, sometimes you’re the only male figure a child may have.”
The Father’s Day Bailout was inspired by a maternal counterpart. The Mama’s Day Bailout is a national program, with a local iteration run last month by the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund.
To be clear, none of the dads who are getting bailed out this week have been convicted of a crime. Bail happens before that. After someone gets charged, a judge sets a price for their release while they await trial. If the person can’t afford the amount, they stay locked up until their case is heard — which can sometimes take years.
The system has been criticized for how often it mandates incarceration for people who haven’t yet been proven guilty of anything, but are just experiencing economic hardship. Philadelphians have advocated against the process, which has been shown to disproportionately affect people of color. Last year, Philly District Attorney Larry Krasner officially nixed cash bail for some low-level offenses.
“We’re hoping to shed some light on the need to end cash bail,” Jones said. “It denies people due process and makes them purchase their freedom.”
Just in time for a BBQ
Among the dads who’ll benefit from Frontline’s new project is Jamal Walker, a 22-year-old father of two who lives in West Philly. When he got picked up for burglary last month, his family anticipated they’d have trouble getting him out.
Walker’s mom Rashena Carter lives in a shelter — and she knew she couldn’t cobble together his $500 bail.
“I didn’t have the money to get him out,” Carter said. “I would have had to be calling all types of people.”
Now that he’ll be out by Sunday, Carter is on pins and needles. Her plan? A Father’s Day cookout at Belmont Plateau with the whole family — her daughter, her son and his children, Jamal Jr. and Bella.
“His kids are going to be very excited,” Carter said. “Both of them light up when they see him.”
After Walker and his peers are released, they’ll get some additional help from Frontline Dads. On deck are free haircuts, clothes, job placement assistance and counseling services.
Still in its first year, Jones’ Father’s Day program hasn’t come together without at least one snag. Earlier this week, the bailout fund released a dad who won’t actually get together with his kids for the holiday at all — because he doesn’t have a good relationship with their mother.
The nonprofit director plans to use this misstep as an opportunity. Frontline Dads will provide the father with services to better his parenting skills and eventually get more time with his kids.
“The separation is a sad story on his part,” Jones added. “We’re going to help him navigate through the family court system to change that.”
Not as successful as the Mother’s Day bailout
In total, Frontline Dads is paying $10k to release the handful of Philly fathers — with about $1,500 coming directly from a community crowdfunding effort.
Though the donations will make an impact, they’re not quite as much as Jones wanted to bring in. He originally hoped to raise closer to $50,000 to bring even more dads home to their families. The lack of support, he said, is evidence that people often underestimate the importance of paternal care.
In its inaugural year, the Mama’s Day Bailout raised $60,000.
“It speaks to the stereotypes of this country, that mothers are primarily viewed as caregivers of children and fathers are looked at as more disposable,” Jones said. “There’s no outrage around fathers not being in the home for an important holiday.”