Potential Consequences for Poor Defendants and Overcrowded Jails
A new bill in Georgia aims to limit charitable bail funds and individuals from bailing multiple people out of jail, reserving that ability only for licensed bail bond companies. This measure, if passed, could have detrimental effects on poor defendants who may be unable to afford bail for crimes they are unlikely to go to prison for. Furthermore, it may exacerbate the problem of overcrowding in county lockups across the state.
This proposed legislation is part of a larger trend among Republicans nationwide to increase reliance on cash bail, even as some Democratic-led jurisdictions are moving towards eliminating cash bail entirely or significantly restricting its use. Last year, a court upheld such a measure in one state, while voters in Wisconsin approved an amendment to consider past convictions for violent crimes when setting bail.
Republicans Argue for Safer Communities
Republican Senator Randy Robertson, a longtime sheriff’s deputy and former state president of the Fraternal Order of Police, asserts that this bill is about making communities safer. He argues that victims often feel that the justice system does not prioritize their safety when suspects are released without cash bail.
However, critics, such as Roy Copeland, a Valdosta lawyer who served on the Criminal Justice Reform Council under former Republican Governor Nathan Deal, argue that this bill will have severe consequences for individuals accused of misdemeanors. Copeland points out that they may lose their jobs, homes, and even custody of their children if they are unable to afford bail and remain in jail. He emphasizes the impact on families, stating that “you’re literally taking food out of the mouths of children and adults.”
Expanding the List of Crimes Requiring Cash Bail
This is not the first time that Republicans in Georgia have expanded the list of crimes requiring cash or property bail. The current list of 24 offenses would be further expanded under this bill. Bail would be required for a second or subsequent misdemeanor offense of reckless driving or criminal trespass, as well as for any misdemeanor battery. Additionally, individuals would be required to post bail if they fail to appear in court for a traffic ticket for the second or subsequent offense.
Governor Brian Kemp has expressed support for more restrictive bail conditions, and with state lawmakers facing upcoming elections, Republicans may intend to portray their Democratic opponents as soft on crime. Kemp has also endorsed other anti-crime proposals, including longer sentences for certain criminals.
Debate over Judicial Discretion and Structural Incentives
While some Republican supporters argue that this bill preserves judicial discretion, Senator Josh McLaurin, a Democrat from Atlanta, rejects the notion that judges would set extremely low bail amounts or that bonding companies would be willing to take on that business. He warns that when the law indicates a preference for incarceration and creates structural incentives for people to end up in jail, the system will inevitably direct individuals towards incarceration.
Democrats have raised concerns that the move to restrict bail funds may be connected to ongoing prosecutions of protesters against the construction of a police and fire training center in Atlanta. Several protesters have been indicted, including three individuals associated with a bail fund.
The Bail Project, a fund that has bailed out over 1,500 Georgians since 2019, questions the decision to limit bail assistance to only three people per year in any city or county for groups and individuals who do not meet the requirements to be licensed bondsmen. A spokesperson for The Bail Project compares this restriction to limiting a food pantry while claiming to solve hunger.
As this bill continues to be debated, its potential consequences for defendants, communities, and the justice system remain at the center of the discussion.