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Warnock wants to reduce the prison population, not by simply releasing inmates but through measures such as decriminalizing marijuana.
Warnock does not want to end cash bail in all cases. He wants to end it for nonviolent offenses such as misdemeanor crimes and municipal violations.
As part of painting the Rev. Raphael Warnock as a radical Democrat, GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler claimed in a Dec. 9 Fox News interview that Warnock "said we need to open up the prisons, he said we need to eliminate cash bail."
Warnock for years has advocated for ending mass incarceration. But rather than simply freeing inmates from prison, he has called for reducing prison populations through measures such as decriminalizing marijuanaa.
On cash bail, Warnock would keep the requirement that people charged with serious crimes be required to post cash bail in order to be released from jail while their cases are pending in court. But he would end that requirement for people charged with nonviolent misdemeanor crimes or municipal offenses.
Who wins the Warnock-Loeffler race, along with who wins another Georgia runoff on Jan. 5 between GOP Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff, will determine whether Republicans keep control of the Senate.
Cash bail has been an issue in the 2020 campaign. President-elect Joe Biden proposes leading a national effort to end cash bail, saying it "incarcerates people who are presumed innocent." But bail is more a state and local matter than a federal one.
As for Warnock, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Fox News on Nov. 24 reported on comments he made in 2018 in support of an Atlanta ordinance. Loeffler’s campaign did not respond to our request for information for this fact-check, but did issue a news release about the Fox News article.
The Atlanta ordinance did not entirely end cash bail; it eliminated the bail requirement for people accused of nonviolent misdemeanor charges, or city ordinance violations, to post cash bail in order to be released from jail while their cases are pending.
Before the ordinance was passed, according to the article, Warnock said: "In the United States of America, at least on paper, you are innocent until proven guilty... . The ability to pay your bond may only mean that you have a thriving drug business ... . We ought to stop separating people from their families just because they're poor."
Some seven months after the ordinance took effect, when there was a marked increase in accused offenders not showing up for court, Warnock said: "We've made poverty a crime. We ought to call cash bail what (it) is: Wealth-based detention. Atlanta ought to be leading the way. Leave the ordinance in place."
During the Senate campaign, Warnock has stated support for eliminating cash bail requirements for nonviolent offenses, saying: "People facing nonviolent misdemeanor charges who have not been convicted of a crime should not remain in jail simply because they can’t afford bail."
On at least one occasion, in a tweet, Warnock didn’t qualify his position, stating: "No one should be stuck in jail just because they can’t afford cash bail. Poverty is not a crime, we must end cash bail."
His campaign reiterated to us that Warnock backs ending cash bail only for nonviolent offenses.
The second part of Loeffler’s claim uses a Warnock remark without context. He commented about opening jail doors (not prison doors) not generally, but in commenting about legalizing marijuana.
On Nov. 17, the conservative news website Breitbart posted an article with the headline: "Raphael Warnock: ‘Open Up the Jail Cells’; Called for Creation of ‘Militant Church.’" The article reported on comments Warnock made at a June 2019 conference at his church on ending mass incarceration. The article includes a video clip that was posted on YouTube by Loeffler’s campaign.
In the clip, Warnock says: "Marijuana is seen as an illegal substance. It’s a terrible irony, and we feel it, that right now in America, there are some folk who are becoming billionaires for selling the same stuff that’s got our children locked up all across America. Where is the justice? It’s not enough to decriminalize marijuana. Somebody’s got to open up the jails and let our children go."
It’s the same clip that Loeffler’s campaign uses on the "Emptying the Prisons" section of its RadicalRaphael.com website.
Loeffler has also used the Warnock remark, without context in shorter clips, in an ad. The ad opens with Warnock saying, "Somebody’s got to open up the jails and let our children go"; and closes with him saying, "Open up the jails and let our children go."
Warnock has campaigned for ending mass incarceration, saying the rate of incarceration in the United States is a "scandal." He has expressed support for reducing mandatory minimum sentences and for programs that enable inmates to reduce their sentences by participating in certain programs. He supports decriminalizing marijuana and "reducing the prison population by enacting true sentencing reform."
Warnock’s older brother, Keith, was released from prison in June after serving more than 22 years for a nonviolent drug-related offense.
Loeffler said Warnock has "said we need to open up the prisons" and "eliminate cash bail."
Warnock made a remark about opening jails in speaking about decriminalizing marijuana, which he supports. He supports reducing the prison population through measures such as sentencing reforms, not through simply releasing prison inmates.
Warnock supports eliminating the requirement for posting cash bail only for people who are charged with nonviolent misdemeanors or municipal offenses, so they would not have to stay in jail while their cases are pending in court.
Loeffler’s statement contains an element of truth, but leaves out critical facts that would give a different impression. That’s our definition of Mostly False.
Fox News, Kelly Loeffler interview (6:00), Dec. 9, 2020
Fox News, "Georgia Senate candidates Warnock, Loeffler tussle over calls to eliminate cash bail," Nov. 25, 2020
FactCheck.org, "NRSC’s Dual Attack on Warnock and Ossoff," Dec. 4, 2020
Twitter, Raphael Warnock tweet, Oct. 1, 2020
Kelly Loeffler campaign, news release, Nov. 25, 2020
Breitbart, "Raphael Warnock: ‘Open Up the Jail Cells’; Called for Creation of ‘Militant Church,’" Nov. 17, 2020
Atlanta Journal Constitution, "Opinion: A good ‘first step’ to criminal justice reform," Jan. 17, 2019
YouTube, Kelly Loeffler campaign clip of Raphael Warnock marijuana remarks, posted Nov. 5, 2020
Kelly Loeffler campaign’s RadicalRaphael.com, "Emptying the Prisons," accessed Dec. 17, 2020
Email, Raphael Warnock campaign spokesman Michael Brewer, Dec. 17, 2020
Atlanta Magazine, "11 questions for Georgia U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock," Oct. 23, 2020
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "More defendants miss court date since some cash bonds dropped," Oct. 5, 2018
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Atlanta mayor signs new ordinance changing cash bail system in a nod to the needy," Feb. 6, 2018
Raphael Warnock campaign website, "Criminal Justice Reform," accessed Dec. 17, 2020
11Alive.com, "Verify: Fact-checking claims made in political ads and online against Georgia Senate runoff candidates," Nov. 30, 2020, updated Dec. 16, 2020
Washington Post, "At Georgia Senate debate, Warnock and Loeffler argue over coronavirus relief, police funding," Dec. 6, 2020
Facebook, Raphael Warnock end cash bail for low-level offenses remarks, June 22, 2018
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