BURLINGTON — According to a new policy, cash bail will no longer be collected in Chittenden County courts.
State’s Attorney Sarah George announced Sept. 16 the decision was based on a mission to end the discrimination and classicism imposed by the cash-bail system.
“We will no longer be part of putting a price tag on freedom and criminalizing poverty,” she said in a statement.
In the U.S., bail is typically a payment of money to the court by the suspect in exchange for their release prior to trial.
George believes this system is inherently unequal, as it allows wealthy culprits to go free until their trial, while the poor are kept detained.
“Every day in the U.S., taxpayers spend $38 million dollars per day to jail individuals who are simply awaiting trial,” she stated.
Instead of collecting bail, the Chittenden County Attorney’s Office will make pretrial detention decisions based on public safety. Detention will be used in the few cases where someone is charged with a violent felony and poses a threat to the general public.
George, has been the state's attorney of Vermont's most populous county since 2017, hopes this policy will be adopted beyond Chittenden County and become statewide law under the Vermont legislature.
“When cash bail practices are upheld, we immediately impact an individual’s ability to maintain employment, housing, custody of children, stable relationships and roots within their community,” she stated.
George believes the cash-bail system disproportionately hurts people of color. Under current Vermont law, cash bail can be imposed upon individuals deemed a “high flight risk,” or someone who might not show up at trial.
“We must acknowledge that systemic racism and classicism exists in Vermont,” she stated.
Vermont leaders have before taken up this issue in a step towards criminal justice reform, but with no success. Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan urged lawmakers in January 2018 to revise the state’s bail policies, but no action was taken.
In addition, Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a bill to the U.S. Senate in 2018, the No Money Bail Act, which if passed, would have imposed George’s policy at the federal level.
"The money bail system is irrational and dangerous,” Sanders said during his introduction of the bill to Congress. “People who are not at high risk but are poor remain incarcerated, while people who may be dangerous are set free if they have the funds.”
George’s office is now the second state’s attorney’s office in the country to cease taking cash bail. Chittenden County follows in the footsteps of California’s San Francisco District.