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Georgia Passes Bill That Jails More People Pretrial and Attacks Bail Funds

The bill requires people be held on bail for dozens of new, small-time charges—and virtually eliminates charitable bail funds after nonprofits posted bonds for many anti-Cop City protesters last year. Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to sign the measure into law.

This photo shows two people holding "Stop Cop City" protest signs outdoors. Georgia has passed a bill effectively banning bail funds amid the protests.
Felton Davis / Flickr

Today, the Georgia House passed a Republican-backed bill that guts charitable bail funds and will send more people accused of misdemeanors to the state’s deadly jails. The proposed legislation, Senate Bill 63, mandates cash bail for more than two dozen additional offenses.

The bill effectively eliminates charitable bail funds. It states that no “individual, corporation, organization, charity, nonprofit corporation, or group” may post more than three cash bonds per year. A person who violates the ban would be charged with a misdemeanor.

The bill was co-sponsored by multiple high-ranking state Republicans, including Senate Majority Whip Randy Robertston and Majority Leader Steve Gooch. The bill passed by a vote of 95 to 67.

Some advocates say this legislation is an attack against community members protesting the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center—better known as Cop City. Local authorities have arrested dozens of anti-Cop City protesters, including senior citizens and faith leaders. The new offenses that would become bail-mandatory include racketeering and domestic terrorism—charges that have already been levied against the anti-Cop City protesters in moves that have alarmed civil rights organizations. Last year, members of the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which provides support to arrested demonstrators, were also arrested and accused of money laundering and charity fraud.

The new bill requires charitable bail funds to submit to the same regulations as bail-bond companies—including undergoing background checks, paying fees, and having an application approved by a local sheriff’s department.

“This is very much an act of retribution against people who have been involved in the Cop City protests,” said Michael Collins, Senior Director for State and Local Government Affairs for the criminal justice reform group Color of Change. “It’s potentially going to have a chilling effect on protest in Georgia.”

Local advocates say the bill will also have catastrophic consequences for low-income and unhoused people accused of low-level offenses. The legislation mandates cash bail for people accused of forgery, unlawful assembly (another typical charge levied against peaceful protesters), and possession of marijuana. Judges would also be required to set bail for accusations typically related to poverty, such as trespassing or theft by taking, provided that it is the person’s second or subsequent offense.

Advocates have long said that the best way to address the ongoing human rights crisis in Georgia’s jails is to reduce the number of people held on low-level offenses, but Bill 63 will do the opposite.

“People who were released on unsecured judicial release so that they could go to a treatment bed; so that they could take advantage of pretrial intervention; so that they could simply go home and take care of their children—those people will now also be held on cash bail,” said Tiffany Roberts, Director of the Public Policy Unit at the Southern Center for Human Rights, an Atlanta-based civil rights group. “Then, on the flip side, this legislation says that organizations can’t help those folks.”

Before the vote, several members of the House spoke out in opposition to the bill, stating that it would jail people accused—but not convicted—of crimes simply because they cannot afford to pay.

“What is most scary about this bill is the criminalization of churches and religious institutions that have historically been on the front lines of social justice and civil rights justice for black and brown people in this country,” State Rep. Tanya Miller said before the vote. “I do not believe that it is appropriate today or any day to tell parishioners and people of faith who pull their money together who want to bail mothers out on Mother’s Day, who want to bail fathers out on Father’s Day, who want to bail children out on Christmas Eve that this body believes that they should be charged as criminals unless they go through the process of becoming bail bondsman.”

Republican Governor Brian Kemp is expected to sign the legislation, which already passed the State Senate, according to local news reports. Kemp’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Several of Georgia’s jails have attracted national attention—and condemnation. Last summer, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) opened an investigation into the Fulton County Jail after Lashawn Thompson was found inside a squalid cell covered in lice and feces.

At the time of his death, most people held in Thompson’s unit—which housed individuals with mental illness—were unable to care for themselves and were so malnourished that they had developed a wasting syndrome typically found in people with advanced-stage cancer.
Last week, Georgia Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, as well as Rep. Nikema Williams, asked the DOJ to prioritize its investigation into the jail, noting that at least seven people had died since the investigation began. In 2023, 10 people in the sheriff’s custody died. Fifteen people died the previous year.

Serious concerns have also been raised about Georgia’s Clayton County Jail. Last year, detainees told The Appeal that they feared for their lives, were forced to live in squalor, had limited access to toilets, and that some people had to sleep on the floor. In September, Ossoff, citing The Appeal’s reporting, requested a federal investigation into the jail.

“There appears to be a pattern and practice of civil rights violations in this jail that result in preventable deaths and jeopardize public trust,” the senator wrote. He later added that reports “of medical neglect at the facility shock the conscience.”

In Ossoff’s letter, he named several detainees who had died, including 32-year-old Alan Willison, who died of testicular cancer complicated by medical neglect, according to the Clayton County Medical Examiner’s Office. The Office concluded that unhygienic living conditions at the jail, malnourishment during his detention, and physical abuse—perpetrated by both guards and detainees—also contributed to his death.

As The Appeal previously reported, Willison had repeatedly begged for help for almost two months. Willison had been held on a third-degree forgery charge—another charge that will become bail-mandatory under the new bill.

“NEED TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL,” Willison wrote in a Nov. 23, 2022, request for medical care, which The Appeal obtained. “I HAVE MAJOR PAIN AND SOMETHING WRONG WITH PRIVATE PARTS.”

He was not diagnosed with cancer until Jan. 19, 2023. He died a week later.

If Bill 63 becomes law—as expected—advocates say these tragedies will become more common.

“You will see more jail deaths,” said Collins. “In some cases, the legislation will represent a death warrant.”