Portland Freedom Fund’s Terrence Hayes on deciding which defendants to help and learning from a terrible tragedy

By Sheraz Sadiq (OPB) and Allison Frost (OPB)
Sept. 11, 2022 12 p.m.
Washington and Oregon both exceeded the national average rate of suicides among jail inmates from 2000 to 2019, according to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Washington and Oregon both exceeded the national average rate of suicides among jail inmates from 2000 to 2019, according to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network


Portland Freedom Fund began several years ago, but it gained real momentum in the wake of the 2020 racial justice protests. Organizers focus on helping low-income, BIPOC defendants post bail. They also want to bring attention to the racial inequities embedded in the cash bail system more broadly. The group came under fire recently after a defendant who they’d helped was charged in the murder of the mother of his children after being released.

Hayes spoke with “Think Out Loud” host Dave Miller on Thursday. Here are some highlights from that conversation. To listen to the entire segment, use the audio player at the top of this story.

On why Hayes feels that the bail system disproportionately hurts lower-income communities of color:

When you look at some of the most impoverished communities in our country, they are primarily BIPOC communities. And so when you set up a system that needs money, in order for people to be home and fight their innocence, then by proxy, poor communities suffer because poor communities cannot afford those bails. Most people, especially in the BIPOC community, don’t have the economic means to pay $15, $20, $30,000 bails at any given time.

And so what ends up happening is the wealthy folks in our country can afford to bail out. They can afford to fight their cases from home, which historically gives you a better chance not only to win, but also to get better deals because you’re free, you can kind of fight your own situation and you can leverage that when it comes to the negotiation table.

How Hayes and others in the Portland Freedom Fund decide which defendants to help:


So what I try to do is I look for history. Like do they have a history of crimes? Was it something that could be considered self-defense? And then how does the community view this individual?

I’ve heard from people’s own moms say: ‘He’s not ready to change. Let’s not use something that can be good for the community to let them out.’ Mothers in my community would rather visit you in jail than bury you. When parents know that their children are a risk to themselves and a risk to others, they are not in a rush to be a part of allowing them back into the community.

We’ve actually denied people who we know intimately, but because we know intimately, we know that they’re not at a point where they’re ready to do better or not cause harm in the community.

On why the Portland Freedom Fund decided last month to help Mohamad Adan post bail, who then a week later, allegedly murdered Rachel Abraham, the mother of his children:

I think we’re okay with recognizing that in doing the work that we do every day that something horrific like this happened.

To be fair, when you’re doing a good thing, there’s always the risk of possibility that someone won’t do well by that good thing. So if I sit here and say, ‘oh, he was a good candidate,’ that spits in the face of what this family is going through. That spits in the face of the harm that was brought to the community. That spits in the face of this tragedy. But I will say that we bailed hundreds of people out to this point. We’ve affected hundreds of lives in a very positive way.

We also learn from our lessons. What we realized is that we have to ask for more from attorneys that recommend individuals and we have to be able to just take a little bit more time and evaluate individuals. It’s a horrific lesson learned for us but we are trying to grow and develop.

On how this tragedy is bringing about changes to how the Portland Freedom Fund evaluates defendants to help post bail:

So one of the things we’re going to do is when we get recommendations from attorneys, the client has to be willing to sign a release of information. If a client is willing to sign a release of information and the public defender is willing to give us access to all those things, then I think we can make a better decision.

We will definitely do a little better to make sure we try to contact victims or potential victims in this space.

We won’t be looking at domestic violence crimes as something we bail. We realize the extremity of possibility of harm that can come as a byproduct of that. So those are all things we’re trying to do better. We’re a community- based organization that’s trying to give something to the community that historically we have not had.