Letters from the Southern Center for Human Rights have led Atlanta’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, to push through an ordinance that reduces the number of instances in which impoverished offenders sit in jail for low-level offenses. In previous months, there have been cases in which the bail was set too high for someone’s family to pay the full amount. They then had to resort to seeking out the help of a bail bondsman only to find out that the fees for the bond were too high as well. On top of that, many of these families couldn’t qualify for a bail bond due to the income requirements. What might be great for first offenders who can’t afford the bail might not be so good in cases of prior convictions, habitual offenders, and even the smaller bonding companies who service the area.
While this news was covered by The Atlanta Journal Constitution a few weeks back, there has been little to no commentary about the affects of the reduction of cash bail cases on the community. Does the ordinance take into account the criminal history of the defendant? According to one bail bonds company in Atlanta, many smaller bonding companies are struggling to get business. In fact, a few of them might be on the brink of going out of business.
Beside the local bondsman, how will the community be affected? If the people who are getting out with just a simple signature end up committing another crime similar to the one they were just arrested for, will the justice system share in the responsibility? After all, they released the defendant, right?
It is hard to say what will come of this in the upcoming months or years, but lets hope that it doesn’t get to that point. What Atlanta residents would like to see is a safe community in which offenders are given the benefit of the doubt, but not given a free ticket to go out in their neighborhood and commit another crime. At least with bail bonds being an option, the bonding company can help ensure that the defendant stays out of trouble until their court date is heard. By obtaining a co-signer on a bond, there is more accountability present. This could mean that the one thing that holds a person back from committing another crime is the financial burden that they will inflict upon the co-signer. If the essence of this accountability gets lost through the upswing in signature bonds vs traditional bail bonds, then we could see a steady increase in the crime rate of Atlanta, Georgia.
Municipal court officials are currently looking at a new bail schedule to allow for the new ordinance to supersede previous versions.