Atlanta Municipal Court Atlanta Municipal Court building (Photo: John Disney/ ALM)

Civil rights lawyers have asked Atlanta’s newly installed Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to end the practice of holding people in the city jail simply because they lack the cash to pay bail.

Civil Rights Corps and the Southern Center for Human Rights announced Thursday they have sent a letter to Bottoms reiterating their call for an end to wealth-based pretrial detention in the Atlanta Municipal Court. The letter asks Atlanta officials to take immediate steps to eliminate the city’s preset money bail policy and instead create a “constitutionally compliant post-arrest system.”

The letter asks the mayor to make a public endorsement by Feb. 1 of the basic principle that people who come before the Atlanta Municipal Court should not be confined in custody prior to trial solely because they cannot afford to pay money bail. The lawyers have also asked her to bring the city’s pretrial policy into compliance with that principle within the first 100 days of her term.

“Your promise to champion criminal justice reform,” the lawyers said, “can be put into concrete form by your support of these principles of fairness and equality in the administration of Atlanta’s criminal legal system.”

The civil rights lawyers sent a similar letter to former Mayor Kasim Reed in November, noting that the two organizations have sued a number of cities in Georgia and around the country in federal court concerning these issues.

The civil rights groups said that the municipal court’s current policy allows Atlanta’s jail to use a “bail schedule” that lists a preset sum for each minor offense and automatically requires money as a condition of release, with no judicial review.

“People who can afford to pay are immediately released after booking,” the lawyers said. “Those who cannot are detained. As a result, city jail cells are filled nightly with people charged with misdemeanors and ordinance violations only because they cannot pay.”

A spokeswoman for Bottoms said by email Friday, ”Mayor Bottoms is reviewing the letter and its contents carefully and looks forward to responding.”