GREENSBORO — A change in policy means that fewer people who have been charged in Guilford County on minor, nonviolent crimes will have to spend time in jail before their court case is resolved, according to a release from the 18th Judicial District Superior Court.
Superior Court Judge John O. Craig and Chief District Court Judge Teresa H. Vincent announced the change Thursday in the release. However, defendants who have a history of failing to appear in court will still be given cash or secured bonds, meaning they will spend time in jail unless the money or property is put up and held by the court clerk until the case is concluded.
“The judges recognize that (the previous system) unfairly impacts persons with limited or no means and burdens the county with incarcerating hundreds of inmates in a year’s time awaiting trial on many cases for which they would not receive an active jail sentence even if they were convicted,” Craig and Vincent said in the release.
The decision was made after consultation with District Attorney Avery Crump, Clerk of Court Lisa Johnson-Tonkins and Public Defender John Nieman, according to the revised policy, which became effective Thursday.
The judges noted in the release that when similar changes were implemented in other jurisdictions, “there have been significant taxpayer savings by reducing jail populations without any measurable increase — and even instances of decrease — in crime.”
On any given day U.S. jails house nearly 500,000 pretrial detainees at a cost of about $14 billion a year, according to a blog post from Jessica Smith, director of UNC’s Criminal Justice Innovation Lab. Local figures were not immediately available Thursday evening.
Cherizar Crippen is celebrating the news. Crippen is coordinator of the Greensboro Black Mama Bail Out — part of a national group of activists seeking to end pretrial detention and mass incarceration.
“It is long overdue and should be celebrated as a win for social justice,” Crippen said via text Thursday.
“People are drowning in debt, this change will eliminate some of the pressures people have been feeling under the weight of the prison industrial complex here in Guilford County,” she wrote.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 14.5% of Guilford County’s population lived in poverty in 2018.
The bond policy changes come amid a growing movement among criminal justice groups to overhaul bail systems that critics say favor the wealthy and punish the poor, while clogging local jails with people yet to be convicted of a crime.
The issue has prompted a class-action lawsuit against Alamance County courts by the American Civil Liberties Union and Civil Rights Corps, according to the Times-News. The lawsuit claims the courts violate equal protection and due process rights, and the right to counsel protected in the 14th and Sixth amendments to the Constitution by giving wealthier people with access to bond money the opportunity to be free until their case is resolved, while the poor remain in jail with limited access to lawyers and limited ability to assist in their own defense.