The Nashville Community Bail Fund, a non-profit organization working to reduce harm caused by bail bonds, will potentially lose their funds.
In July, Tanya , a mother of two staying at a treatment center in Nashville, was arrested on vandalism and theft charges. Bail was set at $2,000, which meant before the trial she would have to deposit $2,000 with the Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk or pay a non-refundable $200 (10%) fee to a bonding company. The problem for Tanya, and roughly 40 percent of people arrested in Nashville last year, was that she couldn’t afford to pay either amount.
On an average day, nearly 900 people remain caged in Nashville’s jail awaiting trial – most because they cannot afford to pay their bail. Those who can pay are released immediately, sparing them the incalculable harm that befalls those trapped by poverty. Just a few nights in jail can cause someone to lose their job, their home, and for individuals like Tanya, even custody of their children.
People detained pretrial also experience worse case outcomes.
They are more likely to plead guilty and receive a sentence of incarceration instead of probation and in most cases the sentences are longer.
The Nashville Community Bail Fund (NCBF) is a non-profit organization working to reduce the harm caused by Nashville’s money bail system to those trapped within it. The NCBF uses charitable donations to pay bail for individuals who cannot afford to pay. Once a person returns to court and resolves their case, the bail is fully refunded and the NCBF reuses those funds to make the next person’s bail.
Since June 2016, the NCBF has paid over $2 million in cash bails and freed over 850 people, including Tanya. More than 50 percent of our participants whose cases have been resolved were not convicted of anything. These individuals spent a total of 2,798 days incarcerated before the NCBF was able to release them.
Had not the NCBF intervened, these same individuals would have spent nearly 30,000 days in jail until their trial date. The NCBF’s actions have also saved Davidson County taxpayers almost $7 million they would have otherwise spent to detain these individuals pretrial.
Courts oppose NCBF
Despite these successes, Nashville’s six Criminal Court judges have ordered the NCBF to comply with a local rule that requires anyone paying a cash bail agree that the defendant’s court costs, fines, fees, or restitution can be deducted from the cash bail deposit.
This means the NCBF will no longer receive full refunds of the cash bails it pays if the defendant owes money at the end of the case. As a nonprofit providing an exceptional public service to Nashville’s most vulnerable and indigent individuals, we are deeply troubled by the judges’ unfounded decision.
NCBF faces an uncertain future of gradually reduced funds and fewer people being freed pretrial. It could even mean the end of the NCBF.
Sudden backlash raises questions.
Why does this wealth-based detention system exist? Why should the NCBF have to pay fines, costs and restitution assessed against someone who successfully returned to court? Why are Nashville’s criminal court judges wedded to the idea that paying money brings people back to court, when all available evidence demonstrates that Nashville’s money bail system does nothing more than hurt the most economically disadvantaged among us?
If this order stands, the judges will send more people back into Nashville’s money bail trap and perpetuate the injustice of our city’s two court systems – one for the haves and one for the have-nots.
Rahim Buford is the program manager for the Nashville Community Bail Fund, and Davie Tucker is a Nashville Community Bail Fund board member and a Metro Human Relations Commissioner.
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