Just City leaders said Thursday they have suspended their pursuit of a criminal justice reform project (which they’ve already launched in Nashville) because they couldn’t find agreement on the issue with Shelby County leaders.
Just City, the nonprofit advocacy group for criminal justice reform in Memphis, began work on bail fund programs in Nashville and Memphis in January. The program would use a reserve of private funds to cover cash bail for people who were deemed likely to return for their court dates.
In Shelby County, portions of bail money are sometimes kept to cover court costs and other fees that might apply as people make their ways through the court system. Just City asked Shelby County Court Clerk Ed Stanton Jr. for an exemption on the court costs.
But Josh Spickler, the executive director of Just City, told county officials Thursday that his organization will end its pursuit of establishing the program here.
“I’ve been doing this for six months: providing information, drafting [memoranda of understanding], answering questions, which is fine; I didn’t expect it to happen overnight,” Spickler said. “But, then, here we are and the only way I can come out of this with any sense of sanity is to just stop.”
Spickler said he pitched the idea to Shelby County Court Clerk Ed Stanton Jr. back in January. Since then, the list of people weighing in on the project has grown to include the Shelby County Attorney’s office, judges, and more.
“It just became apparent that it’s going to be a series of un-ending meetings and each meeting is going to expand the cast of characters who have input on this,” Spickler said, noting that he appreciates that judges are curious about what happens in their courtrooms and county officials want to cover all their bases. “But to continue to go on an un-ending quest to find approval from people whose approval is not legally required … I’m not going to engage in that.”
Still, Spickler said if the county agreed to begin the program, “we’d go bail someone out tomorrow.”
Just City has bailed out six people from jail since the program launched in Nashville in June.
Spickler said he bailed out three people from Memphis last month, largely to get the attention of those in the clerk's office. While it worked, he said the clerk warned that if they kept bailing out people, there would be no guarantee of getting back any funds.
Stanton did not immediately respond to questions sent to him Friday.
Criminal justice reform has been a top-of-mind subject in the week following the massive protest in Memphis, which closed the Hernando-DeSoto bridge. Memphis Police Department interim director Michael Rallings called for criminal justice reform in a speech Monday after the protests.