A nonprofit group has been collecting a steady stream of donations — mostly small ones from private citizens — that will be added to a fund that’s designed to help low-income criminal defendants in Alabama afford their bail. Called “Tuscaloosa Bail Out,” the group aims to reduce inequities in the criminal justice system that basically create two classes of defendants: rich ones and poor ones. Rich defendants can afford to post bail and continue on with their lives in relative comfort and security. Poor ones often find themselves choosing between sitting in jail while awaiting trial or just pleading guilty to get their ordeal over with and hopefully go home sooner.

Officially, cash bail systems are designed to guarantee that a defendant who is charged with a crime will, if released pending their trial, actually show up in court as ordered. In reality, the cash bail system puts anybody of low economic status at a disadvantage when they are facing charges. Being stuck in jail makes it much more difficult to participate fully in their own defense. It often means that they’ll lose their jobs, homes, custody of their children and more — none of which makes stabilizing their lives any easier. For a defendant who’s innocent, sitting around in jail while they wait for their next hearing because they can’t afford their bail is already an unfair punishment.

If you’ve been accused of a serious crime in Alabama, your situation is already challenging enough. It’s wise to seek legal guidance from an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights.