NewsSarasota, Manatee County

Actions

ACLU suing to get Sarasota county man released

jail cell-inmates-jail bars.PNG
Posted at 9:52 PM, Jan 27, 2022

SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla — Half a million. That's about how many people are sitting in U.S. jails, right now, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.

Benjamin Stevenson with the ACLU of Florida says many of those people haven't been convicted of the crime(s) they're charged with.

"The majority of the people in our jails, they're waiting for their trial or their hearing," he said.

And often, Stevenson says they're left waiting in jail because they can't afford to get out. They're people like John Hodges.

"John Hodges awaits trial in a Florida county jail because he can't afford a $5,500 monetary bail."

Hodges is accused of stealing a bike off of someone's porch in North Port.

Court documents show that he's also struggling with homelessness.

But according to the ACLU of Florida, the court system didn't take that fact into account when setting his bail amount.

They say Hodges has offered to be monitored and go to court-ordered substance abuse meetings if his bail amount was lowered to something he could afford. But his request was denied, so now the ACLU is suing to get him out.

"It's really putting the cart before the horse to decide 'Oh this person is guilty, is deserving to be detained because they did it.' When we didn't even have the trial yet. That's what the trial is for," said Stevenson.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), unaffordable bail amounts are leading people across the country to take desperate measures.

"When somebody who comes from an impoverished community cannot afford to get out of jail, who may have to turn to pleading 'no contest' or 'guilty' just so they can get out of jail in order to, for instance, get out of jail or take care of their child," said SPLC staff attorney, Leonard Laurenceau.

And in order to fix this trend, the SPLC tells ABC Action News that we have to point it out and talk about it.

But above that, he adds that there needs to be legal accountability too.

"In order to really enact change, you need to have the laws that reflect that. That really put into place those notions that we know to be true," said Laurenceau.

001 Hodges Habeas Petition (ECF) by ABC Action News on Scribd

002 Hodges Memorandum of Law (ECF) by ABC Action News on Scribd