When government officials charge exorbitant fees for petty violations, they wind up using their own poor citizens as revenue cash cows and keep people trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and jail time. The mayor and councy commission of Athens–Clarke in Georgia has taken a significant step to end that, thanks in large part to extensive work by the Libertarian Party of Athens, Ga.
After months of lobbying and public statements by Libertarian Party spokespersons and other members of the community, Athens-Clarke County Mayor and County Commission voted unanimously to eliminate cash bail and bonds for non-violent misdemeanors. The measure adopted June 4 will amend local ordinance Sec. 3-5-36. Supporters hope it will lessen the criminalization of poverty and the differential administration of justice by requiring due process by judge or jury before fines and jail time can be pursued.
Libertarian Party of Athens Chair April Brown made a stirring statement in support of the measure on Tuesday evening before the vote. Similar measures passed recently in Atlanta and other forward-looking jurisdictions aim to equalize treatment under the law, since those who can afford to pay bond or bail after their arrest may spend little to no time in custody, while those who cannot afford to pay may remain jailed for months before a trial date is set.
Research from criminal justice reform groups indicates cash bail and “pretrial detention” cost poor Georgians their jobs, custody of their children, their health, and their liberty, all without conviction for any crime. Because of the high costs imposed on the accused for court and confinement, each day spent in jail increases the likelihood of re-jailing.
“Athens still has work to do in our criminal justice system, particularly in our prison system,” said Brown after the vote. “Ending cash bail on nonviolent and victimless crimes is a great start! But it is only a start. We look forward to working with the Commission and our law enforcement organizations toward a fairer, freer Georgia.”
LP-Athens teamed up with Mokah Johnson and the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement to advance the issue; the LP also credits the Georgia Justice Project and local chapters of the NAACP with keeping the issue of bail reform on Georgians’ minds.
Supporters of such local improvements have reason to fear opposition from the state legislature. A statewide bill, introduced last session and backed by bail-bond companies that stand to lose business, would make it illegal for local jurisdictions to change their cash bail requirements.
Georgians interested in reforming the bail, bond, and detention procedures which routinely victimize innocent Georgia families should contact their local affiliate of the Libertarian Party of Georgia. The party continues to prioritize criminal justice reform and equality of treatment under the law as part of its core philosophy.
The chair of the Clarke County LP was also quoted in OnlineAthens.com:
“This isn’t about slapping people on the wrist,” said April Brown, chair of the Clarke County Libertarian Party, but a step toward eliminating a costly and ineffective system that results in people having their lives ruined “by getting caught with a dime bag when you’re 20.”