On Tuesday, February 6th, 2017, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, signed an ordinance Tuesday that eliminates the Municipal Court’s cash bond requirement for certain low-level offenders who otherwise would be forced to sit in jail due to being unable to afford a bond.
The Atlanta Mayor stated, “… It makes no fiscal sense to hold someone in jail over a $500 bond”.
According to the many reports, after six hours of public comment and debate Monday afternoon, the City Council approved the ordinance 13-0. The bail bond industry itself appeared to be the main opponent of this law during public comments. However, citizens largely supported this effort. Sure, the bail-bonds industry may lose a little money, alas, families will be safe from the racketeering system that our legal system has become!
Like in all matters of the law, we have to strike a balance between liberty and security; Protecting the logical rights of men and their properties, while not creating monopolies that only the wealthy and the governments themselves can understand or afford to participate in. That’s the problem with our current legal system. The legal system is a glorified socialized “gun” that we use to point at one another in a “civilized” courtroom. However, it doesn’t make society any fairer or safer when that shared use of force can only be afforded by certain groups of people. Namely, the extremely poor who can claim to be “indigent”, or the extremely rich who can afford the best lawyers or to pay off judges. It is the middle-class who has no remedy. They don’t qualify for low-income exceptions, and they cannot afford a legal team of their own. Where do they go?
The legal industry and the for profit prison system, nicknamed the “Prison Industrial Complex”by many, benefits the state departments, judges, prison investors, bail bondsmen, lawyers, and police officers looking to keep their quota numbers up. However, this sort of “for profit” legal system creates another hurdle for the poor looking to get a leg-up.
Public urination, driving on a suspended license, an unpaid traffic ticket, simple possession of marijuana, – these are not charges synonymous with dangerous criminals who may flee the country or state, they are merely “infractional” petty offenders. To hold these people on a bond, who probably can’t afford the bail money, will sit in jail over such infractions whereas they are likely to lose their jobs and further slip into the cycle of legal penalties which facilitates poverty and loss of family ties.
The system doesn’t seem to care. As long as they are pulling in revenue for the system, lawmakers appear oblivious to long-term impacts on low-income families looking to escape poverty. According to statisticbrain.com, the average police officer in the USA pulls in about $300,000 per year in revenue from citations. That’s about $6,232,000,000 per year nationally! That’s a lot of revenue for infractions that could largely be forgiven, warned, or overlooked. If I receive a seat-belt ticket, and am forced to pay the state $50, how does that solve any problems? If I cannot afford the ticket, my license will be suspended, taking away my ability to get to and from work, further forcing my family into the bellows of poverty. If I get caught driving on a suspended license, I go jail.
Holding a prisoner isn’t cheap either. It costs taxpayers about $31,000 per year to feed, clothe, and house an inmate. That’s about $85 per day, much more than the cost of your average citation. But, the prison investors, bail bondsmen, law makers, government workers and attorneys who make money mitigating these issues don’t care about tax-payers or at risk families. They care about profit margins and expanding department budgets!
Some may say, “Just follow the law and it won’t be a problem!”. We must ask ourselves, why does the United States have the largest prison population in the world? Over 70% of our inmates are non-violent! It’s a money scheme! It costs $500 to legally operate a lemonade stand in America! The average American commits three misdemeanors and a felony per day without even realizing it! Literally every inch of American life has a statute or code attached to it! If the legal system can’t get you for running a red-light, maybe they can get you for being a “public nuisance” or for the bumper on your car being one inch lower than what statute allows. The more laws we create, the more criminals we create by default! It is an inadvertent consequence stemming from good intentions; or perhaps it is all designed purposely to be this way? Or perhaps, the truth is somewhere in the middle?
Regardless, this reform effort that the city of Atlanta has made, thanks to so many passionate advocates and leaders like Atlanta based attorney Gerald A. Griggs, who championed this effort, is a welcomed change! It is so rare for attorneys and politicians to come together on behalf of the poor. When these instances happen, they deserve all of our applause and credit! I salute Mayor Lance-Bottoms and all of those who fought for the repealment of such archaic bail practices.
Sure, if a man is wanted for malicious battery, murder, rape, robbery, or grand theft auto, it makes sense to put a bail requirement on him/her. Alas, those who are subject to a bail requirement for petty offenses are merely pieces of evidence proving what a corrupt system we have. This new change in the law is an excellent move and I pray that all cities follow suit! This may seem like a small victory, but in reality, it can potentially turn into a huge wave of momentum in terms of criminal law reform.