This article appeared in the March 2018 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
On Feb. 6, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed ordinance 18-O-1045, which eliminates cash bonds to secure release from the city of Atlanta Detention Center following an arrest for violation of city ordinances. Criminal justice reform, including cash bail reform, has long been a key priority for Mayor Bottoms and was a centerpiece of her campaign. Georgia’s Cities
learned more about the new mayor’s prioritization of this ordinance and her continued plans for meaningful justice reform.
GC: Why was the signing of the cash bond ordinance the first of your administration?
KB: Meaningful criminal justice reform, including cash bail reform, was a cornerstone of my campaign and a commitment I addressed during my inauguration speech. People should not be held in jail because of their inability to pay bond. This practice disproportionately affects low-income citizens.
GC: You won support of the city council to successfully tackle this issue very early in your administration. How does that speak to your leadership style?
KB: I think it is an example of what can be achieved when people work together for a greater cause. I have formed a solid relationship with our city council and look forward to working together towards Atlanta’s future success.
GC: What entities will you be partnering with to continue to increase resources available to individuals released on signature bond?
KB: I look forward to working with all of our stakeholders, including the municipal court and our city’s non-profit and philanthropic community. We are continuing to seek opportunities to increase the supportive resources and wrap-around services available to individuals released on signature bond to ensure their safety and the safety of our communities.
GC: Why are the above partnerships important to this initiative?
KB: Supportive resources are important for individuals released on signature bond because we are giving them the tools they need to succeed. We are giving men and women an opportunity to be held accountable, but also to live their lives and not be penalized for their inability to pay.
GC: What other plans do you have to lead Atlanta to more meaningful criminal justice reform?
KB: My Transition Team has formed a policy advisory committee to provide guidance and counsel on criminal justice reform at the municipal level. We have an opportunity to set a new course, building upon the new pre-arrest diversion initiative, and connecting people to services and support, rather than funneling them through the criminal-justice system. We have the opportunity for real reform, and to build genuine respect and understanding between our officers and our neighborhoods.
GC: What guidance would you give other municipal leaders interested in adopting a similar ordinance?
KB: I have two pieces of guidance for other leaders looking to take this step. First, this kind of change can only happen with the support of the community. Leaders must make the case for these changes and invite a true public conversation around criminal justice reform. Second, this type of reform will be only as effective as the implementation plan behind it. Here in Atlanta, stakeholders including our police department, our department of corrections, our municipal judges, our city solicitor, our city attorney, our public defender and the law enforcement bodies of our overlapping jurisdictions have worked together extensively to develop a sound and thoughtful strategy for implementing this significant change to city practice.