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Report: Georgia Fails On Bail System Fairness, For Now

The nonprofit Pretrial Justice Institute, which is funded by a U.S. Department of Justice grant, has crunched numbers and compared state policies on how courts decide who stays in jail before their cases see trial.
The nonprofit Pretrial Justice Institute, which is funded by a U.S. Department of Justice grant, has crunched numbers and compared state policies on how courts decide who stays in jail before their cases see trial.
Credit Pixabay Images

When it comes to running a fair and effective bail system, Georgia gets a failing grade, according to a new report. But change may be on the way.

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According to census data, Georgia had almost 20,000 unconvicted people in jail on a single day in 2013 (the latest data available for the state). And that’s not good, says Rachel Sottile Logvin with the nonprofit Pretrial Justice Institute.

The group, which is funded by a U.S. Department of Justice grant, crunched numbers and compared state policies on how courts decide who stays in jail before their cases see trial.

“And what we found was the majority of the country, about 35 percent, were failing. Seventeen of our states received an ‘F’,” Sottile Logvin said.

That’s because many courts base bail decisions on a range of subjective factors, rather than data, she said. And that ends up having a disproportionate impact on poorer people who commit low-level crimes.

The institute gave only one state an “A” : New Jersey. That’s thanks to a 2014 law that requires courts there to use a data-driven model to decide who stays in jail before their cases see trial. Sottile Logvin said it took about two years of “intensive training and preparation” to overhaul the bail system in the state.

Since the changes, New Jersey has seen a significant drop in the number of people waiting for trial in jails. Sottile Logvin said even with fewer people in jail, violent crime decreased in the same period, though there’s not necessarily a correlation there.

Sottile Logvin said her group has been working with Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s Criminal Justice Reform Council, and she’s hopeful the council will include some strong recommendations for change in its next report. It’s due out early next year.