Tennessee legislature takes second look at cash bail system

Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 10:47 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WMC) - Monday, the Tennessee State Senate Judiciary and House Criminal Justice Committee tackled the controversial issue of bail bond reform.

“The reality is that there’s an industry in this state that makes tens of millions of dollars every year, and those tens of millions of dollars come straight out of the pockets of poor families across the state,” said Josh Spickler, executive director of the criminal justice non-profit, Just City Memphis.

He traveled to Nashville for Monday’s hearing. Spickler has been a long-time advocate of abolishing the cash bond system.

Offenders often pay 10 percent of their set bail to an agent who promises to pay the court in full if the defendant doesn’t show up for their court date.

During Monday’s hearing, there was debate about whether or not people who aren’t convicted of any crime should be forced to stay in jail because they can’t afford to pay a bail bondsman.

“I mean, this choice of keeping someone in pre-trial detention is one that the justice system has to make and it should not include the question, do you have money?” said Spickler. “If someone is determined in need to be in custody, that person can be in custody. Otherwise, they should be let out.”

State Representative Vincent Dixie of Nashville was one of the committee members with a unique perspective.

He owns a bail bondsman company with six offices across Middle Tennessee.

He says the magistrates should consider other options other than bail, especially for low-level or first-time offenders.

“The judges and the court system, they have a lot of discretion. They control a lot of that and we have to make sure they have every tool in the toolbox to get people back to their daily lives, to get them back home to be productive,” said Dixie.

Dixie says for some offenses, such as driving with a suspended license or shoplifting should warrant a citation instead of being arrested with a cash bail.

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