Majority of people arrested for misdemeanors in Nashville fail to post bail

A push for bail reform in Nashville is getting an assist from recent statistics that show the majority of people who are arrested for misdemeanors remain in jail until their case is concluded.

According to News Channel 5 about 21,000 people were charged with misdemeanors last year in Nashville, but only 8,565 of those charged got released on bail.

Public Defender Dawn Deaner said there are essentially two criminal justice systems in Nashville, one for people who can pay bail and the other for people who can’t.

“The primary problem with a money bail system is that it simple keeps people in custody solely because they’re poor, or living in poverty and they don’t have the financial means to get out of custody,” Deaner said.

Deaner said bail reform is needed in Nashville.

But District Attorney General Glenn Funk disagreed, and said the statistics were misleading.

Funk said some of the people who didn’t get out on bail weren’t in jail for very long. He also said many who stayed for a long time were facing serious misdemeanor charges, like domestic assault.

“Everybody that’s just charged with a misdemeanor come to court the very next day. Most folks that have their case in front of a judge, either the bond gets reduced, resolved, or sometimes dismissed,” Funk said.

Funk has previously said he’s opposed to keeping people in prison because they’re poor, but he’s also said he’s opposed to ending cash bail.

As In Justice Today previously reported, the The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and the Civil Rights Corps are calling for an end to money bail in Nashville.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, and Alec Karakatsanis, executive director of Civil Rights Corps, said the current bail practices are likely unconstitutional and need reform. The duo wrote in an op-ed calling for reform.

“In 2016, the average amount of secured money bail imposed on people charged with misdemeanors in Davidson County was more than $5,000,” the column said. “Thousands of people are jailed in Davidson County simply because they cannot pay the amount of money demanded in exchange for their liberty.”