GA law proposed for cash bail overhaul

GA law proposed for cash bail overhaul

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - A Georgia Senate proposal attempts to keep fewer non-violent offenders behind bars. It's a measure designed to give those who really can't afford bail a get-out-of-jail-free ticket.

SB 407 is also one of Governor Nathan Deal's plans to overhaul the state's criminal justice system.

In Chatham County, a similar version of this system has already been in place for years. Those who can't pay bail for a misdemeanor are un-cuffed and set free.

"Once they've been here for 10 hours, if they can't bond out, we let em sign their own bond and they're gone," said Chatham County Sheriff, John Wilcher. "So it's nothing to me. The governor's two years behind with me. I've been doing it all along."

The Chatham County Detention Center doesn't hold anyone for a misdemeanor past 10 hours unless they are charged with a DUI or domestic violence.

"I release them out of my jail, I fingerprint them in here. I do everything per the law under the O.C.G.A and that's the way I'm gonna do it," Sheriff Wilcher said.

Those released are free to go until their court date. In the past three weeks alone, Chatham County has released 91 people charged with misdemeanors. It costs an average of $70 per day to hold one inmate in jail. The Chatham County Detention Center saves taxpayers an average of $101,641 per year by releasing the majority of inmates.

"My job is to serve and protect the people of this community," Wilcher said. "I want to serve them by not costing them a ton of money. I also want to protect them by not letting the wrong people out of jail at the wrong time."

If the bill makes it to the governor's desk, Wilcher is confident the state's jails will be less crowded and tax-payers will be the true beneficiaries. Right now, this proposal would also increase the penalties for any crime involving firearms.

SB 407 unanimously passed the Senate on Monday, but still awaits a House vote and signature from the governor.

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