New Data Throws Fuel on the Fire for Nashville Bail Reform
The majority of people who face misdemeanor charges remain behind bars just because they are poor
Talk of bail reform in Nashville is getting an assist from recently released data showing that the majority of individuals arrested for misdemeanors remain in jail until their cases are concluded.
According to News Channel 5, about 21,000 people were charged with misdemeanors last year in Nashville, but only 8,565, or approximately 40%, were released on bail. The new statistics add momentum to the ongoing push for bail reform in the city. As In Justice Today previously reported, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and the Civil Rights Corps are calling for an end to money bail in Nashville.
Public Defender Dawn Deaner said there are essentially two criminal justice systems in Nashville, one for those who can pay bail and the other for those who can’t.
“The primary problem with a money bail system is that it simply keeps people in custody solely because they’re poor, or living in poverty and they don’t have the financial means to get out of custody,” Deaner said, arguing that bail reform is clearly needed in Nashville.
But District Attorney General Glenn Funk disagreed, insisting that the statistics were misleading. He maintained some of those not released on bail weren’t in jail for very long. He also said many who stayed in custody longer faced serious misdemeanor charges, such as domestic assault.
“Everybody that’s just charged with a misdemeanor come to court the very next day. Most folks that have their case in front of a judge, either the bond gets reduced, resolved, or sometimes dismissed,” Funk said.
Funk has previously said he’s opposed to keeping people in prison because they’re poor, but he’s also against eliminating cash bail.
Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, and Alec Karakatsanis, executive director of Civil Rights Corps, said the current bail practices are likely unconstitutional and need reform. In an op-ed published this summer in the Tennessean they made the case for reform.
“In 2016, the average amount of secured money bail imposed on people charged with misdemeanors in Davidson County was more than $5,000. Thousands of people are jailed in Davidson County simply because they cannot pay the amount of money demanded in exchange for their liberty,” the editorial said.