Bail Reform

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Bail Reform 2018-01-05T14:00:26+00:00

Bail Reform

On any given night in the United States, nearly 450,000 people who are legally presumed innocent sit in jail only because they cannot afford to pay a monetary bail amount. Today in our state, we have a two tiered justice system where poor people are punished more harshly than people with money. Locking up people before trial because they cannot afford to pay bail is a leading cause of mass incarceration in Tennessee and elsewhere.

People suffer in local jails while awaiting trial, often for low-level offenses, and many working Tennesseans lose their jobs because they are unable to make bail and return to their homes and places of employment while waiting for their day in court. Most importantly, putting bail out of reach for thousands of low-income people violates our fundamental principle of innocent until proven guilty.

Reforming our state’s treatment of people before trial, including the use of money bail, will result in fewer people unnecessarily held behind bars.  This is why advocating for fair and effective alternatives to pretrial detention is an important part of the ACLU of Tennessee’s Campaign for Smart Justice.



Trapped in Jail for Being Poor: Money Bail in Davidson County, Tennessee

Press Releases

ACLU-TN and Civil Rights Corps File Friend of the Court Brief Supporting Bail Reform

Civil Rights Groups Urge Court to Uphold Decision that Struck Down Unconstitutional Money Bail System in Harris County, Texas: Ruling Could Reform Bail Practices Across the Country

Legal Resources

State of Tennessee v. Weatherspoon Amicus Brief

Policy Reports

Selling Off Our Freedom: How Insurance Corporations Have Taken Over Our Bail System (American Civil Liberties Union’s Campaign for Smart Justice and Color of Change)

No Money, No Freedom: The Need for Bail Reform (ACLU of Washington)

Bail Reform: A Civil Liberties Briefing (ACLU of Ohio)

ACLU Blog of Rights posts

Kalief Browder’s Tragic Death and the Criminal Injustice of Our Bail System,” by Udi Ofer, Deputy National Political Director and Director of Campaign for Smart Justice, ACLU

We’re Living in a Surveillance Society, So Why Do We Need Bail?,” by Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project & Andrea Woods, Equal Justice Works Fellowship Attorney, Criminal Law Reform Project

Behind Many ‘Mom and Pop’ Bail Bonds Shops Is a Huge Insurance Corporation Out to Profit From Misery,” by Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, Criminal Justice and Drug Policy Director, ACLU of California

Poverty Is Not a Crime, so Why Are People Being Trapped in Immigration Detention for Being Poor?,” by Katie Egan, Washington Legislative Office & Joanne Lin, Senior Legislative Counsel, ACLU

In the Media

Has bail reform in America finally reached a tipping point?,” The Christian Science Monitor, April 2017

Bail-Bond System Exploits the Poor and Undermines Justice, ACLU Says,” NBC News, May 2017

Conservatives Have a Stake in Bail Reform,” The National Review, July 2017

Davidson County must reform unconstitutional bail practices,” by Hedy Weinberg and Alec Karakatsanis, The Tennessean, July 14, 2017