Lil Nas X (with Jack Harlow) has got one of the hottest rap hits in the country at the moment with just-released "Industry Baby" and its audacious prison-themed video that takes familiar hip-hop tropes and gays the heck out of it in the best possible way.
But the 22-year-old rapper is angling for attention for more than just himself. He's using the jail focus of the video to advocate for much-needed bail reform, and he's partnering with The Bail Project to raise more funds to help free needy people from pretrial detention.
Bail is supposed to be a system that makes sure people who are released from jail after being arrested show up for court and behave themselves while they're awaiting trial. But in many places across the United States, cash bail demands have become a system for keeping people who don't have resources trapped behind bars not because they're dangerous or flight risks, but because they don't have the money.
The result is a system that essentially punishes people, particularly poor minorities, before they're ever convicted and makes a mockery out of the idea of presumed innocence. Some courts are ruling the practice unconstitutional. People who are stuck in pretrial detention often end up accepting bad plea deals that saddle them with harsher sentences and punishments than they'd get if they were free to fight the charges. And if they do manage to arrange for bail through a bail bondsman, they permanently lose a chunk (typically around 10 percent) of the money for the privilege of being free. They do not get this money back if a jury acquits them of the charges.
America at any given point has about half a million people locked up in pretrial detention. These are people who have only been charged, not convicted, of a crime. Some of them are dangerous, and some are flight risks and probably should remain behind bars. But many people are trapped simply because they can't afford to pay. Some states, like New Jersey and California, have reformed their bail systems so that either cash bail isn't required in most cases or judges are obligated to determine a defendant's financial status so that bail isn't set at an amount he or she cannot afford.
Bail funds across the country also assist in getting people out of pretrial detention. They operate by covering a defendant's total bail. Assuming that defendant behaves while freed, the bail fund will get the money back, and it can be recycled for a new defendant.
The Bail Project is a national organization helping cover the costs of getting people out of jail in cities across the country. They've helped pay bail for nearly 17,000 people. Lil Nas X has jumped aboard with the Bail X Fund to help raise more money.
"This isn't just theoretical for me," he explains in a prepared statement. "It's personal. I know the pain that incarceration brings to a family. And I know the disproportionate impact that cash bail has on black Americans."
Lil Nas X's promotion has raised close to $45,000 already. That money probably won't go terribly far on its own, but remember it can be recycled from defendant to defendant. And more importantly, Lil Nas X's involvement massively raises the profile of the bail reform movement.