Atlanta Bail Reform Undercut By Ga. Bill, Advocates Say

A provision added to an immigration enforcement bill would preempt a new law that changed Atlanta’s cash bail system, bail reform advocates say.

David Goldman / Associated Press

Bail reform advocates say a provision added to an immigration enforcement bill in the state legislature would preempt a new Atlanta law that changed the city’s cash bail system.

Atlanta’s change to its law allows people arrested for some nonviolent misdemeanors to be released on a “signature bond” or on their “own recognizance,” before they’re due back in court. Supporters of Atlanta’s ordinance said it was intended to prevent people who are unable to pay for bond to sit in jail for days.

But advocates say language added to a state bill would require people to see a judge before they’re able to be released. That process would leave people stuck in jail, said Marissa McCall Dodson, public policy director at Southern Center for Human Rights.

“This bill would essentially prohibit people from being released without financial conditions until they have seen a judge, and sometimes, this is days, weeks,” Dodson said. “We are very concerned with the way this bill might impact local jurididictions’ ability to more effectively manage their jail populations.”

The provision was added in a House committee that was considering a Senate bill on immigration enforcement.

The bill’s original sponsor, state Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, told WABE Wednesday that he did not know why the bail language was added.

“That was not something we proposed, and I don’t know fully what the consequences of that would be, but that was not part of our original bill,” Sen. Stone said.

The provision in the bill that passed out of a House committee Tuesday says that an accused person “shall be released from custody upon posting bail as fixed in the schedule; provided, however, that such schedule shall not mandate releasing an accused on his or her own recognizance before being brought before a judge of a court of inquiry.”

Other parts of the bill would require courts to notify federal immigration enforcement officials when sentencing someone for a felony conviction.

WABE reached out to representatives in the bail industry for comment, but did not received a response. Those against Atlanta’s new bail ordinance said the law would make the city less safe. They’ve said it would hurt business owners in the industry and also affect public safety by releasing more people arrested for crimes.