Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced today that she wants to eliminate cash bail bonds for nonviolent offenders. The proposal would not end bail for those suspected of violent crimes or repeat offenders, nor would it end bail for those suspected of property theft. The strategy was a pinnacle part of her campaign around criminal justice reform.
According to WSBTV, the council will discuss the proposal next week.
Reaction to the proposal
It’s not a terribly radical proposal as is believed by the chief municipal judge who told city council members that many judges have already moved away from cash bonds.
However, the bail industry met the proposal with deep skepticism and claims that it would lead to chaos.
“The city of Calhoun, since they’ve implemented some of these release without incentives, have seen a 150 percent increase in failure to appear,” said Scott Paul of Bail Industry.
But for others, the move is a way to be sure that no one will ever be jailed simply because they are poor.
WSBTV’s Tom Jones spoke with a homeless man who said he was held in jail for five days because he couldn’t afford a $200 bond for jaywalking and resisting arrest.
“I didn’t have the money, man. I said, ‘Man, can ya’ll give me to Friday? Give me to Friday, please,'” he said.
For people like this gentleman, requiring cash for bail can mean an extended detention for low-level offenses. And let’s face it, the majority of these offenders are typically low-income people of color.
“This ordinance, bottom line. This ordnance needs to be passed, man. A lot of people (are) in jail for petty stuff,” he said.
Burrell Ellis with the ACLU of Georgia said that too many people are like that homeless man, locked up for being too poor to bond out.
“They were accused of a crime but they can’t afford bail so they just sit in our jails,” Ellis said.
In a statement, Bottoms expresses her belief that the change in legislation will have an enormously positive impact.
“With this legislation, we are affirming that people should not be held in jail because they cannot pay bond. We are making a commitment that the City of Atlanta will ensure that no one will be jailed because of their inability to pay. To achieve this commitment, we need action from all of our stakeholders, including the Municipal Court, the Atlanta City Council, and our city’s non-profit and philanthropic community. I look forward to working with our partners to adopt progressive, effective legislation and implement policies that align with our values.”