Jamiesfeast – Georgia, which was once considered a pioneer in criminal justice reform, is regrettably backsliding towards its previous approach of tough-on-crime policies.
In a significant move, state senators overwhelmingly voted 30-17 on Thursday to introduce a new provision that mandates cash bail for an additional 30 crimes. This includes 18 offenses that are typically classified as misdemeanors or are commonly associated with such charges. This decision brings Senate Bill 63 closer to being passed, requiring only one more House vote for its final approval.
The measure also aims to restrict charitable bail funds or individuals from bailing out multiple people from jail. Instead, this capability would only be reserved for those who fulfill the legal requirements to become bail bond companies.
The decision has the potential to leave indigent defendants incarcerated even for non-violent offenses that are unlikely to result in prison time. Additionally, it may contribute to the problem of overcrowding in county jails throughout Georgia. This ruling undermines the progress made in 2018, when bipartisan support led to the passing of measures under the administration of Republican Governor Nathan Deal that granted judges the authority to release individuals accused of misdemeanors without requiring bail.
Republicans across the country are actively advocating for a greater dependence on cash bail, despite Democratic-led jurisdictions moving towards eliminating or significantly limiting its use. This divide was highlighted when Illinois successfully upheld its plan to abolish cash bail, while Wisconsin voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing judges to take into account an individual’s previous convictions for violent crimes when determining bail.
Republican Senator Randy Robertson of Cataula, a former state president of the Fraternal Order of Police and a longtime sheriff’s deputy, emphasized on Thursday that this measure aims to prioritize the safety of our communities. He has been advocating for this bill since last year, highlighting the concern that victims often perceive the justice system as indifferent when suspects are granted release without having to pay bail.
According to Roy Copeland, a Valdosta lawyer and member of Deal’s Criminal Justice Reform Council, this legislation will have severe consequences for individuals accused of misdemeanors. He argues that the inability to afford bail will result in job loss, homelessness, and even the loss of custody of their children.
Copeland expressed his concern about the impact of such actions, stating, “You’re literally taking food out of the mouths of children and adults.”
The Republican Party in Georgia has once again proposed an expansion of the list of crimes that would require the accused to post cash or property bail. Currently standing at 24 offenses, this list would be further extended to include additional charges. Under the new proposal, bail would be required for a second or subsequent misdemeanor offense of reckless driving or criminal trespass, as well as for any misdemeanor battery.
If individuals fail to appear in court for a traffic ticket for the second time or more, they will be obligated to post bail. The maximum consequence for this offense is three days of imprisonment. Furthermore, law enforcement has a three-day window to present individuals before a judge after their arrest on a warrant for failing to appear.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp is pushing for stricter bail conditions, signaling a potential strategy for Republicans to criticize their Democratic opponents as being lenient on crime. With state lawmakers facing elections this year, the focus on crime could be a key talking point for Republicans. Additionally, Kemp has shown support for other anti-crime measures, such as advocating for longer sentences for certain offenders.
Some Republican supporters argue that Deal’s push is not a betrayal of the years’ worth of efforts. They highlight that a provision backed by Deal, which requires judges to consider a person’s ability to pay when setting bail, still remains in law.
According to Senator Brian Strickland, a Republican from McDonough, criminal justice reform aimed to avoid implementing a uniform approach for every individual. This approach allows for discretion and flexibility in addressing different cases.
But according to Sen. Josh McLaurin, an Atlanta Democrat, he disagrees with the notion that judges would be inclined to set extremely low bail amounts. He also doesn’t believe that bonding companies would be willing to take on such business.
McLaurin pointed out that when the legal system actively promotes jail as the desired outcome and establishes incentives that lead individuals down that path, it becomes inevitable that more and more people will end up incarcerated.
Some Democrats believe that the decision to limit bail funds is connected to the ongoing prosecutions of activists protesting against Atlanta’s police and fire training center, which they refer to as “Cop City.” In September, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr obtained 61 indictments against protesters, including three individuals involved in operating a bail fund.
The Bail Project, an organization that has secured the release of over 1,500 individuals from jail in Georgia since 2019, has raised concerns about the recent decision to restrict the number of people that non-qualified individuals or groups can bail out to just three per year in any given city or county.
Lizzie Tribone, a spokesperson, expressed their opinion on the matter, stating that it is akin to imposing limitations on a food pantry while purporting to address the issue of hunger.