Last Monday, Senate Republicans outlined their plan to “finish the drill” and push forward their priorities which includes eliminating “no-cash” bail for people accused of violent crimes. Sadly, that is not a fair representation of what the bill they are backing, SB 63, actually does. Before voting on the measure, House Republicans should take a deeper look and then vote their conscience rather than abide by simple politics. The potential harm is too great.
While SB 63 would add a few new violent crimes to the list of offenses that require cash bail if the person isn’t detained, it also adds numerous nonviolent crimes and misdemeanors. If the bill became law, cash bail would be required for people charged with the purchase or possession of marijuana, forgery, identity fraud, racketeering, conspiracy (for which Donald Trump is currently facing charges), and unlawful assembly. And the list goes on.
The bill also restricts how many times an individual or charitable organization can pay bail on someone’s behalf when they cannot afford it. A faith leader leading a program for at-risk youth could only post cash bail up to three times in a year for the kids he was mentoring. If five of them were caught with marijuana? Too bad. Only three can be bailed out.
Senator Randy Robertson and others allege that this bill is about making communities safer and showing victims we care. But Georgia judges already have broad authority to detain individuals when someone presents a risk to public safety and can set money bail for any charge. Crimes like drug trafficking, murder, and aggravated assault already require cash bail if the defendant isn’t detained.
Moreover, research shows that cash bail does not keep the public safe from violent people. People of means or access to resources can still buy their way out. What cash bail does is set up a two-tiered system of justice where poor people remain behind bars, lose their jobs and homes, and are separated from their children while dangerous people with money go free. For instance, Cameron Hopkins was out on money bond for kidnapping charges when he recently murdered his 19-year-old ex-girlfriend. Caring for victims and public safety requires making risk-based, not wealth-based pretrial decisions and prioritizing speedy trials rather than long, drawn-out cases.
This bill will have devastating consequences for sheriffs already dealing with overcrowding or understaffing in their facilities. In December 2023, jails in Walton, Franklin, Rabun, Richmond, Stephens, Camden, Emanuel, Union, and Chattooga Counties were already at or over capacity. In January, Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee shared that over 25 percent of his detention jobs are unfilled. This creates dangerous conditions for staff and incarcerate people alike. Adding more low-income people charged with minor offenses will likely exacerbate these problems.
Fulton County’s experience shows the dangerous results of overcrowding and understaffing. At least 10 people died in the jail last year, including 23-year-old Dayvion Blake who was stabbed to death last August. His family said they were days away from posting his $2,500 bond when he died. The facility is now under DOJ investigation. We do not want more jails or people to suffer the same fate.
If this bill is about addressing violent crime, lawmakers should remove non-violent offenses from their proposed cash bail-only list. Otherwise, this bill is simply a Trojan horse for expanding the use of cash bail and will serve as a government handout to the bail bond industry.
Jason Pye is a Georgia native, co-host of Peach Pundit The Podcast, and the Director of the Rule of Law Initiatives for the Due Process Institute.