You Can Download an Easy Blockchain App to Help Poor People Make Bail

dencg/Shutterstock.com

The app allocates a small percentage of the operating device’s excess computing power to mine cryptocurrency.

Every night, nearly half a million people who have not been convicted of a crime are nevertheless sitting in jail cells across the US. The vast majority of these people in pretrial detention are at risk of losing their jobs, their homes, and even custody of their children because they cannot afford bail. And so, regardless of their innocence, 90% will choose to plead guilty rather than wait the weeks, months, or years necessary for backlogged court systems to hear their cases. It’s just one of the many ways that the US criminal justice system punishes the poor before they ever get to trial.

In an effort to address this injustice, The Bronx Freedom Fund provides bail for the accused who cannot otherwise afford it by collecting donations from the public. And in recent months, the organization has partnered with the online culture magazine The New Inquiry to take a much more experimental approach: building its bail fund with the proceeds from mining cryptocurrency.

Bail Bloc, an app developed by The New Inquiry and launched in November, allocates a small percentage of the operating device’s excess computing power to mine cryptocurrency. Bail Bloc mines Monero, a relatively energy-efficient cryptocurrency, and transfers the rewards it collects to a central pool, which is converted to US dollars and donated to The Bronx Freedom Fund. It can be downloaded for free on the magazine’s website.

The New Inquiry estimates that each Bail Bloc user can generate $3 a month. Although that may not seem like much, the magazine figures that only 5,000 users running the app for one year can produce enough funding to free as many as 1,800 people from pretrial detention. And because 96% of defendants out on philanthropic bail money return for all of their court dates, the vast majority of funds raised will be returned to The Bronx Freedom Fund and used to free people in perpetuity.

The New Inquiry deserves the credit for this innovation,” says Ezra Ritchin, project director at The Bronx Freedom Fund. “They pitched us the idea of Bail Bloc, and we were thrilled to collaborate.”

Although creating an app that fights mass incarceration is ostensibly outside the wheelhouse of a magazine dedicated to criticism, The New Inquiry doesn’t see it that way. Not only does founder and co-publisher Rachel Rosenfelt view Bail Bloc as part of the magazine’s near decade of work criticizing the US criminal justice system (which The New Inquiryhas conveniently bundled together to accompany the app), but she considers Bail Bloc a piece of criticism itself.

“We think of criticism as a political weapon—that individual pieces can actually help us, and help our readers alongside us, articulate an understanding of something that needs to be made sense of,” she says. In Bail Bloc’s case, the thing that needs to be understood is “criminal justice in the United States as the profound evil that it is.”

In this sense, Bail Bloc follows The New Inquiry’s other “rhetorical software” projects: The Founder, a start-up simulator illustrating the all-consuming aspects of capitalism; and White Collar Crime Risk Zones, which applies real-life predictive policing techniques to financial malfeasance.

As far as its development goes, Rosenfelt describes Bail Bloc as “a true horizontalist, collaborative effort.” The concept of distributively mining cryptocurrency was introduced by Grayson Earle, who teaches emerging media technology at the New York City College of Technology, but its application to bail was suggested by JB Rubinovitz, an artificial intelligence designer. Along with Earle, The New Inquiry’s senior editor Maya Binyam helped lead the project, ensuring it complemented the work being done by bail funds and activists.

The New Inquiry’s conception of Bail Bloc as a form of criticism may seem like intellectual spin on just another social justice project, but the app’s design embodies that principle. Monero became the cryptocurrency of choice over the better known Bitcoin because mining the latter requires significantly more electricity—an issue of practicality for users, but also an environmental concern.

Similarly, bail funds were selected as the beneficiaries of the app because they could recycle the small amounts of money produced by distributive mining in perpetuity, while such little money would be of almost no use to other kinds of organizations. Furthermore, Bail Bloc collects very little information about its user—in keeping with activist concerns over surveillance technology and The New Inquiry’s conception of bail as a form of social surveillance, in which the poor are forced to regularly check in with courts and bail bondsmen, lest they be arrested once more.

The app “only tracks how many people are using it at any given moment, but not the identities of those people,” says Earle. “We can also only estimate the number of installs given how many people visited the download page and currently run the software.”

Based on visits to the app’s page, he estimates that 3,000 people have downloaded Bail Bloc to date. With around 1,000 users running the app daily, Bail Bloc has raised more than $5,000 for The Bronx Freedom Fund in the two months since the software’s launch. As successful as that may be, it falls far short of the ultimate goal shared by both The New Inquiry and The Bronx Freedom Fund: abolishing bail altogether.

“At the end of the day, our goal is to drive ourselves out of business by fueling the momentum for systemic change,” says Ritchin of The Bronx Freedom Fund.

It’s a sentiment that Rosenfelt echoes. Discussing reactions to Bail Bloc, she notes the virality of the project, with its coverage in major publications and its mentions across social media (including the Twitter account of popstar Grimes). Of the criticism the app has received, Rosenfelt points to a trend disparaging it for “wastefulness.” She summarizes the complaints as: “ ‘What a wasteful thing to do! Why shouldn’t we just give money directly to bail funds?’ ” To which she responds: “Please! Oh my god, yes!”

Rosenfelt’s delight reveals Bail Bloc’s true purpose. In developing the software, The New Inquiry’s goal isn’t necessarily to have users passively assist the poor. The hope is that, the sooner users realize that they can do more than just run Bail Bloc in the background, the sooner they can start making moves to abolish bail, period. In other words, it’s only once Bail Bloc is made obsolete that its job will truly be done.

NEXT STORY: How to Recycle Your Old Tech

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.