Two Civil Rights Groups Call for End of Money Bail in Atlanta

Yesterday, the Civil Rights Corps (CRC) and the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) issued a letter to new Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms that reiterates “their call for an end to wealth-based pre-trial detention in the Atlanta Municipal Court.” They are seeking to eliminate “the Municipal Court’s pre-set money bail policy and instead implement a constitutionally compliant post-arrest system.”

The letter directly addresses Mayor Bottoms: “Your promise to champion criminal justice reform can be put into concrete form by your support of these principles of fairness and equality in the administration of Atlanta’s criminal legal system.” They also listed out two major requests of the Mayor:

  1.  Make a public endorsement by February 1st of the basic principle that people who come before the Atlanta Municipal Court should not be confined in custody prior to trial solely because they cannot afford to pay money bail; and
  2.  bring the City’s pre-trial policy into compliance with that principle within the first 100 days of her term as Mayor.

A press release provided further details:

  • A similar letter was sent to former Mayor Kasim Reed in November, explaining that although the two organizations have successfully sued a number of cities in Georgia and around the country in federal court concerning these issues, they hoped to work with progressive city leaders to implement reforms in Atlanta.
  • Under the municipal court’s current policy, Atlanta’s jail uses a “bail schedule” that lists a pre-set sum for each minor offense and automatically requires money as a condition of release, with no judicial review.  People who can afford to pay are immediately released after booking.  Those who cannot are detained. As a result, city jail cells are filled nightly with people charged with misdemeanors and ordinance violations only because they cannot pay.
  • The city’s reliance on wealth-based detention is expensive, harms Atlanta’s most vulnerable citizens, and undermines Atlanta’s reputation as a progressive city whose leaders are committed to fairness and equality.
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