Could Atlanta’s new mayor end a discriminatory practice of jailing African Americans who can’t pay bail? Two civil rights groups are urging Keisha Lance Bottoms to stop wealth-based pre-trial detention in the Atlanta Municipal Court, Law.com reported.
The Civil Rights Corps (CRC) and the Southern Center for Human Rights asked in a letter for Bottoms to publicly endorse the 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.” They are asking the mayor, who promised criminal justice reform and was sworn in as the city’s 60th mayor last week, for that endorsement by February 1.
They also have a second request: that Bottoms bring the city’s pre-trial policy into compliance with that principle within the first 100 days of her term as mayor. Groups envision that the court will implement a “constitutionally compliant post-arrest system,” Georgia Pol reported.
“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,” a statement in the letter reads.
Atlanta’s jails function on 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, under the municipal court’s current policy. People who can pay bail are immediately released after booking. However, those who can’t remain detained. As a result, overcrowded city jail cells are filled with people charged with misdemeanors and ordinance violations solely because they cannot pay bail.
The city relies on this wealth-based detention despite the high costs of it. Many of the city’s most vulnerable citizens are locked up for no credible reason before trial, painting a picture of discrimination against community members of color. Criminal justice reform advocates are hoping that Bottoms will help to change this distorted picture.