Under pressure from a national advocacy group, Nashville leaders may change the bail system that keeps some criminal defendants in jail if they can’t afford to pay their way out, The Tennessean reports. Officials want to expand programs that allow defendants to get out of jail cash-free and are also considering reforms to the way cash bail is set, reforms that could lead to fewer poor people waiting for a trial behind bars. The work simmered for a more than a year, but boiled over after Civil Rights Corps, a criminal justice nonprofit, threatened to sue if progress wasn’t made soon. Representatives of the district attorney, sheriff, and public defender have met to discuss significant changes that could go into effect in the early months of 2018.
The group still is negotiating how broad the expansion of cash-free releases should be. Nashville judges will have to approve the plan before any changes are final. Officials have developed a tool to determine if defendants were likely to appear in court and avoid additional arrests while they await trial, regardless of their ability to pay cash bail. The goal should be to make sure that every jail inmate poses a serious risk to flee or not to appear in court, or is a serious risk to our community, said Sheriff Daron Hall, adding, “Unfortunately there are a lot of poor people and people who pose very little risk to the community who stay in jails across the country because they can’t afford it.” Civil Rights Corps has sued other cities over what it considers unfair bail practices. A judge ruling on the group’s lawsuit in Houston ordered the county to stop keeping people in jail on misdemeanor charges simply because they couldn’t afford a money bail.