Congratulations, Atlanta: Eliminating Cash Bail is a Major Victory for Individual Rights

What happened:
In a surprising victory for individual liberty, the Atlanta City Council voted Monday to end pretrial detention for nonviolent crimes, releasing citizens accused of misdemeanors with a signature, rather than requiring a large cash bail.  
The ordinance recognizes that cash bail systemically violates the rights of the poor by punishing them before they are convicted. A spokesman for the Libertarian Party of Georgia spoke persuasively to the Council and on local television in advance of the historic vote (quote at 1:04 in clip below).

CBS46 News

Why it matters to Libertarians:
We believe all people must be treated fairly and equally before the law. All rights of all individuals matter all the time – no exceptions. Cash bonds which don’t account for an accused person’s ability to pay are unconstitutional, denying those who can’t buy their freedom due process and equal justice under the 14th Amendment.

Cash bail, pre-trial detention is a social injustice

  • 60-70 percent of jail inmates – half a million people nationwide – are there simply because they’re too poor buy their freedom until they can prove their innocence. 
  • 95% of jail population growth since 2000 has been in the “unconvicted” (read: constitutionally innocent) population.
  • Outrageous, decades-long mandatory minimums and the threat of spending months in jail before even going to trial often forces poor citizens to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges just to go home, regardless of actual innocence.
  • Prosecutorial conviction records and political careers benefit from “tough on crime” attitudes, with no regard for the human cost. Arrest and imprisonment quotas require a certain number of criminals, even when crime rates fall.
  • Federal agencies subsidize the labor economy of many rural communities, where pork barrel prison projects and jobs are derived from the systemic storage and containment of legally free citizens.
  • The appalling conditions of America’s jails would not be tolerated if the wealthy and powerful were at equal risk of being trapped in one.  

Pretrial detention is an unnecessary expense Georgia cannot afford
Less pretrial detention of poor people saves money without sacrificing justice.

  • Neither increased usage of cash bail, nor higher bail amounts, are associated with increased court appearance rates. Non-violent offenders don’t abscond.
  • Cost of subsequent punishments can be reduced because research indicates a much lower imprisonment rate, all other factors equal, for pretrial releases versus those held until trial.
  • Profit-driven bail bonds companies, private parole services companies, and other political beneficiaries lobby for steeper penalties and longer, more invasive forms of monitoring to secure generous taxpayer contracts.

Pretrial detention violates individuals’ Constitutional and natural rights
The fundamental principle of due process – that we are each innocent until proven guilty – is violated when the poor are jailed (punished) before being given the opportunity to prove their innocence.

Injustice by the Numbers: 

  • 90: percentage of defendants jailed pre-trial who plead guilty 
  • $58: cost per day to imprison someone in Georgia ($21,170/year – we could send them to four years of college for less)
  • 10 days: average jail stay on misdemeanor charges, for someone unable to pay cash bail.
  • 1 in 13: Georgians under supervision (prison, jail, parole, or probation) the highest rate in the nation.
  • 96,000: prisoners in state or federal custody in Georgia.
  • 59: percentage of Americans who DO NOT have $500 saved for an emergency
  • $500: the cash bail Sandra Bland’s family was raising when she died in jail.
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