Great news from Alec Karakatsanis (a member of our Board) about another step toward justice.
Alec’s team won a major victory last night against money bail and private probation in Rutherford County, Tennessee. The federal court in Nashville issued a 20-page opinion (see pdf link below) condemning the use of money bail to keep misdemeanor probationers in jail prior to revocation hearings. The judge ordered sweeping changes to the way that thousands of cases are handled. The judge also ordered the release of all of the prisoners, meaning that potentially hundreds of people will be home for the holidays and prevented from being jailed because of their poverty in the coming months.
Agreeing with the local Sheriff (see video above), the federal judge made some sweeping statements about the injustice of private probation. Here is a sample:
The use of secured money bonds has the undeniable effect of imprisoning indigent individuals where those with financial means who have committed the same or worse probation violations can purchase their freedom. This effect stands in flat contradiction to the long-held and much-cherished principle that “[t]here can be no equal justice where the kind of [treatment] a man gets depends upon the amount of money he has.” . . . . The Fourteenth Amendment precludes imprisoning someone because he or she does not have enough money: “When a defendant is imprisoned for financial inability to pay a fine immediately, he is treated more severely than a person capable of paying a fine immediately. The sole distinction is one of wealth, and therefore the procedure is invalid.” . . .
Defendants in this case have determined that PCC probationers are eligible for immediate release upon payment of a monetary bond. They make this determination without any inquiry into indigency. In so doing, Defendants deny release only to those too poor to post bond, meaning that one’s freedom is conditioned upon one’s financial resources. The Constitution protects those in the criminal justice system from such perverse contingencies.
In sum, all four of the factors a court considers when presented with a request for a preliminary injunction weigh in favor of granting the sought-after relief. . . . A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy never awarded as of right. But the injustice perpetrated here is just that: extraordinary.