The Connecticut Bail Fund hosted its inaugural End of Summer Jam at Goffe Street Park on Saturday, attracting dozens of community members to enjoy an afternoon of food, music and community.

The event was planned to bring together community members who have benefited from the fund’s work and celebrate the group’s efforts, but it also served as an opportunity for attendees to donate to the cause. The festivities showcased an array of local artists performing rap, spoken word and reggae.

“It’s a fundraiser, but also it’s really important to create those spaces where people can just come together, because our communities are struggling and we don’t always get to come together and enjoy [each other,]” Vanessa Suarez, the fund’s deportation defense organizer said.

There was much to celebrate. In the past three years, the Connecticut Bail Fund — which directs a variety of programs under its banner, including a pre-trial defense fund and an immigration bail fund — has provided bail funds for several hundred people in pre-trial detention and 70 in immigration jail, according to Brett Davidson ’16, co-director of the organization.

The fund also runs a Participatory Defense Hub, a gathering space for families who are fighting cases in criminal or immigration court. In addition, the fund will start a group for women to meet regularly this week. Davidson said that the new “mutual aid collective” will be run by formerly incarcerated women and women, as well as women who have been punished by the criminal legal system, the immigration system and the child welfare system.

In recent months, the Connecticut Bail Fund has expanded, hiring three new full-time organizers and a full-time fellow, according to co-director Ana Maria Rivera-Forastieri. The new organizers have increased the fund’s capacity to do more bailouts. Whereas the fund previously managed only a handful of cases every week, it now handles roughly a dozen.

The fund has recently launched a campaign geared toward restricting collaboration between the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local and state law enforcement. The fund is demanding that the court officials respect Connecticut’s Trust Act, which restricts the ability of law enforcement to collaborate with federal immigration officials. The fund is also advocating for policies to restrict ICE agents from approaching or entering courthouses.

In an interview with the News, Suarez said that most of the organization’s clients detained in immigration jail were picked up by ICE at a courthouse.

“This destroys the trust the community has in the courts and law enforcement,” Suarez said. “They have to access the courthouses, whether they’re the victim of a crime, or whether they’re accompanying a family member, or whether they have their own case.”

The fund, in collaboration with other local New Haven organizations, is also involved in a new pilot project to extend universal representation to people fighting deportation. There is currently no right to counsel for those in deportation proceedings.

Lamont Labranch, whose mother and girlfriend have benefited from the fund’s work, started attending CT Bail Fund events in recent months. He praised the “good folks” at the fund who have continuously checked up on him and his family since bailing his mother and girlfriend out.

“Moving forward, the big focus is coalition-building and campaign work to start to push for pre-trial justice and reform, which is the direction we’re moving in as an organization,” Davidson said.

The Connecticut Bail Fund was founded in 2016.

Leila Iskandarani |