Bill to ease burden of cash bail on low-income Alabamians clears Senate committee

A bill that would significantly ease the financial burden on low-income Alabamians accused of municipal violations won unanimous Senate committee approval Wednesday. SB 31, sponsored by Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, would be a major step forward on criminal justice debt reform, which Arise members chose as one of our 2018 issue priorities. The bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee 10-0 and awaits a Senate vote.

Under current state law, municipal judges can jail people for many minor violations and misdemeanors pending trial unless they can afford a bond, which may cost hundreds of dollars. When the judges impose bonds, they are not required to ask if defendants are financially able to pay the bond that would allow them to leave jail and go home.

SB 31 would help reduce crowding at municipal jails across Alabama by removing cash bail requirements for people accused of many violations and misdemeanors when those people have not shown a reason to believe that they are a risk to public safety or that they will not show up for court. The bill would not change bond requirements for crimes related to domestic violence or drunken driving.

Many Alabamians live paycheck to paycheck and do not have hundreds of dollars available to spend on a bail bond. This bill would help protect families’ financial well-being by allowing low-income workers not to risk losing their jobs because they cannot bond out of jail after being charged with a minor offense. The measure also would save money for cities, which no longer would have to pay to house and feed people accused of minor crimes until their trials.

By Dev Wakeley, policy analyst. Posted Jan. 10, 2018.