Chattanooga organization calls for end to cash bail

CALEB hosts The Vera Institute for Justice in public panel on subject

CHATTANOOGA (WDEF) — Chattanoogans in Action for Love, Equality and Benevolence, or CALEB for short, held a panel tonight to discuss the nationwide movement to end cash bail.

They hosted The Vera Institute for Justice tonight in a Q-and-A that was open to the public.

Rev. Charlotte Williams addressed those in attendance tonight saying “slavery didn’t end, it evolved.”

She also said, “mass incarceration is the new enslavement and the new Jim Crow.”

She believes Chattanooga’s time to end cash bail is now and that residents have a simple choice — “do something or do nothing.”

CALEB audibly called for the ending of pre-trial detention and cash bail.

Williams told those in attendance it would be something they would have to fight for.

“We need to disrupt the status [quo],” Williams said. “Life as we know it has to come to an end. We need to make a new world where everyone is free, everyone receives justice — not because of their bank account, but because they are human beings.”

CALEB’s Michael Gilliland says America uses “prison to address social problems more than any other country in the world.”

He said that those who cannot afford to pay bond, regardless of whatever charges one may face, are “under threat.”

The group is determined to fix that.

“94% of cases in the United States that are held in local courts, you don’t go to trial, they’re arranged via plea deals,” Gilliland said. “You’re pleading out what your charges are going to be often out of a pressure that you find yourself in custody.”

District 6 Commissioner David Sharpe said, “one’s ability to post bail should not determine their fate or their ability to provide for their children and families.”

During the early stages of the pandemic, Sharpe said the county reduced the number of “nonviolent, pre-trial detainees from over 1,500 at the time to less than 1,000.”

He says this move reunited families, as well as saved local taxpayers “millions.”

“This was done all without the concern for public safety,” Sharpe said. “This lets me know very clearly that if we have the will to do this, it can be done.”

Sharpe believes now is the time to have an “open, honest and informed” conversation in the county.

“Courts should treat people as innocent until proven guilty and mere accusations shouldn’t be able to ruin people’s lives … and it does,” he said.

CALEB stated that the issue “is pertinent to every taxpayer and resident in our county who cares about compassion and justice in our communities.”

During the presentation, numerous statistics were discussed revealing that Tennessee incarcerates more people on average than the United States.

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