Alabama County Faces Lawsuit Over Pregnant Vet Jailed Because She Can’t Afford Freedom

WASHINGTON ? Civil rights organizations are suing an Alabama county on behalf of a pregnant veteran who remains locked up in an overcrowded jail because she can?t afford to pay for her freedom before trial.

Police arrested and jailed Kandace Edwards, a 29-year-old mother of two, on Wednesday after she allegedly forged a $75 check. She?s seven months pregnant and has been homeless since December. Edwards served in the Army National Guard from 2006 until 2010, but is currently unemployed and has a history of mental health issues.

Under Randolph County?s bond schedule, people charged with forgery must pay $7,500 in bail in order to get out of jail before trial. These amounts are typically assessed without considering a defendant?s ability to pay, or whether the individual is a public safety or flight risk.

Edwards couldn?t afford $7,500, or even a portion of it to secure release from a commercial bail bondsman. These for-profit services typically charge a nonrefundable fee of 10 percent of the total bail amount. Edwards faces an indefinite period of incarceration before her case goes to trial. Randolph County only schedules trials twice per year, meaning defendants who can?t pay bail can remain behind bars for six months or longer, according to the lawsuit.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, Civil Rights Corps, the ACLU Foundation of Alabama and the national American Civil Liberties Union came together to file the lawsuit asserting Randolph County?s bail practices are unconstitutional. It?s one of many suits challenging bail practices and working their way through the federal court system.

?Randolph County reveals the cruelty of money bail. The government robs poor people of their liberty for no other reason than their inability to pay,? said Brandon Buskey, senior staff attorney with the ACLU?s Criminal Law Reform Project. ?They sit in jail for days or weeks waiting for a release hearing, while their jobs disappear and their families suffer. Meanwhile, those who can pay go home, with the time and freedom to prepare for trial.?

The lawsuit alleges that Edwards was originally assigned to a cell with a total of six women and four beds. The lockup is currently operating at three times capacity, and ?does not have any shampoo or wash clothes because of severe overcrowding,? the suit alleges.

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