Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms took office at the beginning of this year. She has recently backed a new policy. The policy involves releasing people who have received minor traffic and misdemeanor offenses without having to post bond. This policy came after the Civil Rights Corps and the Southern Center for Human Rights sent a letter to her requesting “an end to wealth-based pretrial detention.” They asked for a public endorsement of the cause and to bring the policy into compliance within the first part of her term as Atlanta Mayor.
I have advocated this approach and made my support well-known. I believe requiring a bond in for minor traffic offenses in Georgia as well as misdemeanor offenses has amounted to a war on poor people. Requiring bond for these types of charges serves no real purpose. It creates an unjust and inequitable disadvantage for the impoverished.
The maximum punishment for a misdemeanor is twelve months. Posting bond will not affect whether a person will attend court for their minor charge. For a low-income individual, bond amounts are incredibly detrimental to their well-being. It results in these impoverished people sitting in jail until their court dates or pleading guilty just to get out of jail. Let me reemphasize this - middle to upper class citizens who have been charged with a misdemeanor can afford bail, and the poor cannot. To break this down, it means that someone who can afford to bond out of jail is also afforded the opportunity to absolutely better defend their case in court. For those who cannot afford to bond their way out, they have but two options: sit in jail or plead guilty. This is grossly unfair and unjust. We cannot continue to use our court system as merely a source of revenue rather than a source of liberty and justice. Statistically, poor people who are jailed before they are convicted are more likely to receive conviction as a result of a complete lack of adequate defense. They are more likely to receive longer sentences and to commit future crimes.
This is using the law to punish the poor and the impoverished to a higher degree. It is unacceptable.
After a vote, last Monday, the Municipal Court of Atlanta will now allow people charged with a nonviolent offense to utilize signature bonds instead of the bail requirement. However, according to the bench, “...in the interest of public safety, defendants charged with new offenses posing a significant risk to the public and themselves will continue to have their bond determined by a judge within forty-eight hours pursuant to Georgia Law.” Although this is a step forward, both the civil rights lawyers and I are looking for a more drastic change.
“We applaud the Court's effort to re-examine its pretrial process, but we're concerned that this policy, as written, will lead to more wealth-based, pretrial detention for minor offenses, not less. The policy does not require the use of signature bonds in any case. Even for the most minor offenses, there is still discretion to detain people only because they cannot pay small bail amounts.” - Sarah Geraghty of the Civil Rights Corps and the Southern Center for Human Rights.
This is a matter of law and ethics. The fact that judges can still choose whether or not they can grant signature bonds is no different than the previous policy.
Click here to learn more about how bonds work in Georgia.
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