The Hamblen County money bail system traps poor people in jail because they cannot afford to purchase their release. The judge and judicial commissioners in Hamblen County routinely impose unaffordable money bail amounts — sometimes in amounts as high as $1 million. In a county where one in five residents lives below the poverty level, these money bail amounts are essentially detention orders.
As a direct consequence of this system, the Hamblen County Jail operates at over 170 percent capacity. People locked in cages regularly sleep naked on the concrete jail floor because mold and mildew infested cells are overcrowded. People are handcuffed to door handles, forced to sleep shoulder-to-shoulder on mattresses in supply closets, and shackled to their own wheelchairs.
The money bail amounts for the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit range from $1,500 to $75,000. They are four women charged with misdemeanors and non-violent drug offenses. Between them, they suffer from serious medical conditions for which they are not receiving medication, separation from minor children, and loss of employment, in addition to the prolonged detention in inhumane and unsanitary jail conditions.
This case seeks to hold accountable the actors who are making these unconstitutional decisions and by doing so, begin addressing the jail crisis in the right way — by reducing the Hamblen County jail population and assembly line wealth-based detention.