The Price of Freedom

October 29, 2018 | DALLAS (SMU) – SMU Big iDeas 2017 Pitch Contest winner Greg Guggenmos launches community bail fund to help free those awaiting trial with charges for nonviolent misdemeanors. Inspired by a New York program that provides bail money for indigent citizens, his goal is to ensure that bail and justice exists for everyone, even the needy citizens of Dallas. Since Dallas didn’t have a program like New York, Greg decided to do something about it – he made one. Thus the Dallas Community Bail Fund was formed.

Greg first heard about the New York program through an NPR story. Through his research, he found that 80 percent of the defendants that borrowed money from the fund were found innocent, and 98 percent paid the fund back. Unfortunately, in Dallas, there was no program to bail indigent citizens, and while a defendant waits for trial, they are placed in jail, unable to work for that time. This was a lose-lose situation, where the defendant and their family suffer from the repercussions of the trial and jail time, and “Dallas spends $255,000 a day for jailing of pretrial defendants…which adds up to $93 million a year,” becoming the No. 1 expense in Dallas County.

Though several people heard the NPR story, Greg acted on it because he had already learned the impact one person could make, drawing from his experience working as a lobbyist for the Texas Home School Coalition in Austin. But no one can take on this big task alone. Greg connected with another nonprofit activist involved in similar pursuits, received mentorship and funding from several sources at SMU, such as the Office of Engaged Learning and SMU Honors Program.

Drawing from a $20,000 grand awarded by New York’s Robert F. Kennedy Foundation, Greg plans to distribute his first coordinated bailouts to Dallas residents this fall.

According to Greg, things are going well! They have the lawyers and interviewed 17 people, for whom Greg received an extra $20,000 from the RFKHR Foundation to bail out all 17 this week, making it one of the biggest bailouts ever attempted by a bail fund. He is currently looking for another $4000 as matching funds to the amount donated by RFK to cover the last two people with bail. If you would like to donate, please let him know!

Read more about Greg’s story.

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