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Chittenden County state’s attorney will no longer seek cash bail

Published: Sep. 16, 2020 at 8:27 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 16, 2020 at 4:36 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Chittenden County’s top prosecutor plans to stop using bail as a way to get people to show up in court.

State’s Attorney Sarah George says the system is unfair to poor people and people of color and goes against the state’s constitution.

“The only reason that people can or cannot post bail is that because they can or can’t afford it. It has nothing to do with public safety and it only has to do with wealth,” George said. She says data shows that posting bail has no impact on whether someone shows up in court.

George says they may jail someone in “limited cases” where they are charged with a violent felony and poses a public safety threat. She says her office is working with the defense bar to strike bail from any pending cases.

George is only the second prosecutor to push for the end of bail in the country.

Watch Darren’s full interview with Sarah George on bail reform, as well as her take on the Burlington City Council’s efforts to create a safe injection, Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m. on “You Can Quote Me.”

“Due to the risk of violence within jails and the enormous pressure to accept plea offers just to return home, cash bail creates conditions for more harm and greater potential for further contacts with law enforcement and the legal system,” George said in a statement. “These impacts only make our community less safe and only serve to hold poor people in jail on an amount of bail we know they cannot afford.”

George says the American legal system is built on “systemic racism and classism," and that this exists in Vermont as well, with one of the most racially disproportionate prison populations in the nation when compared to Vermont’s racial makeup.

She says the Vermont Constitution states “no person shall be imprisoned for debt.” According to George, taxpayers spend $38 million per day to jail individuals who are simply awaiting trial.

“The cash bail system in our country is predicated on the false assumption that people will not appear for court unless an arbitrary amount of cash is paid. Research, however, has consistently found this is to be inaccurate,” George said in a statement.

The Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office may jail someone in “limited cases” where they are charged with a violent felony, the evidence of guilt is great and they believe the person poses a public safety threat. George says her office is working with the defense bar to strike bail from any pending cases.

The court could still impose cash bail, so George is calling on the Legislature to make the cash bail elimination law.

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