The Alternatives to Incarceration Act that went into effect in Tennessee in July 2021 establishes among its provisions a requirement that courts in the state give offenders the least restrictive conditions of release for some low-level offenses.

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The act also mandated that people charged with driving on a revoked or suspended license because they failed to pay fees be released as they await trial.

The fee paid to a bail bondsman to be freed from jail in Tennessee is usually 10 to 15 percent of the bond amount.

But what if you cannot come up with even the 10 to 15 percent?
Speaking at a March 15, 2021, virtual roundtable on bail reform in Tennessee, attorney Angie Berman said: “One of the things that case law has said is that you can’t detain someone just because they don’t have money. You can’t take away their bodily liberty only because they can’t pay enough to get out. Yet it continues to happen over and over again. What happens is that (1) judges oftentimes don’t know the law; (2) judges don’t follow the law; and (3) we don’t have sufficient procedural protections to make sure the law is being followed.”

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, said: “Money bail has created a two-tiered system of justice in Tennessee that has been shown to disproportionately harm people of color, people living below the poverty line and people who are unhoused.

“People who do not have the resources to make bail should not have to stay in jail simply because of their financial state,” Weinberg added.

“The increased reliance on wealth-based pretrial detention in rural counties is particularly concerning, as these are the same communities that are already struggling to contend with high rates of poverty, opioid use and other addiction issues – not to mention the rapid spread and mortality rate of COVID-19, which can be even worse behind bars.”