In Unanimous Vote, Atlanta City Council Approves Cash Bail Reform

A coalition of local activist groups has pushed for changes to Atlanta’s cash bail system.

Lisa Hagen / WABE

The Atlanta City Council voted unanimously Monday to approve an ordinance that changes how cash bail works for some low-level offenses.

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So many people showed up to Monday’s meeting that some had to watch the debate from an overflow room. Public comment alone took two hours.

Atlanta is the latest in a stream of cities and states addressing concerns that people too poor to pay bail stay stuck in jail for minor crimes while those who can afford bail are let out — all for the same offenses.

The new measure means city judges will now have more freedom to release people arrested for nonviolent misdemeanors until they’re due back in court.

Many people showed up for Monday’s Atlanta City Council meeting. Some had to watch the debate over cash bail reform from an overflow room. Public comment took two hours. (Lisa Hagen/WABE)

Scott Hall, with the Georgia Association of Professional Bail Bondsmen, says it was a bad day for law-abiding Atlantans.

“I am mostly concerned about my family and their safety, and my friends that, in fact, are victims of crimes. How are they going to get justice?” Hall said.

Supporters insist fears of increased crime are overblown.

“We’re talking about ordinance violations, some traffic offenses and a very limited number of state misdemeanors. So this is truly the low-level court in our court system,” said Sarah Geraghty of the Southern Center for Human Rights.

The measure has the support of Atlanta police and detention officials.

Mary Hooks, with the activist group Southerners on New Ground, said the ordinance is a first step.

“We know this is an entry point, so this begins a conversation,” Hooks said.

She wants to use the money saved from jailing fewer people for community organizations. That idea already has some council support.

The ordinance takes effect a month from now. A built-in review will come in six months.