Gov. Brown Signs Bill Overhauling California’s Monetary Bail System

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Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bail overhaul bill into law. Courtesy of the governor’s office

A bill that will overhaul the state’s monetary bail system, giving judges more discretion in determining which defendants should remain behind bars, was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

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“Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly,” Brown said as he signed Senate Bill 10, co-authored by Sen. Robert Hertzberg of Van Nuys and Assemblyman Rob Bonta of Alameda.

Hertzberg hailed the legislation — which has been in the works for two years — as an effort to eliminate the so-called “money-bail” system, ensuring that potentially dangerous inmates are released on bail solely because they can afford it.

“Our path to a more just criminal justice system is not complete, but today it made a transformational shift away from valuing private wealth and toward protecting public safety,” Hertzberg said. “… We are creating a system that is fairer for all Californians.”

Under the legislation, people arrested on suspicion of criminal offenses can be held in jail “only if they pose a significant risk to public safety or risk missing their court date,” according to Hertzberg’s office. Instead of setting money bail amounts, the legislation allows for non-monetary release conditions for eligible defendants, such as GPS monitoring or home detention with electronic monitoring.

The legislation gives judges discretion to determine which defendants pose a safety risk to the public or might potentially fail to appear in court, and thus, should remain jailed.

“Abolishing money bail and replacing it with a risk-based system will enhance justice and safety,” Bonta said. “For too long, our system has allowed the wealthy to purchase their freedom regardless of their risk, while the poor who pose no danger languish in jail. No more. Freedom and liberty should never be pay to play.”

With the governor’s signature, the legislation will take effect Oct. 1, 2019, according to Brown’s office.

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The legislation, however, has been met with opposition from some civil rights groups — including one of its original sponsors, the American Civil Liberties Union of California.

The ACLU originally backed the legislation, but as it was amended in the Legislature, the organization switched to a neutral position before ultimately coming out in opposition.

According to a statement issued by the executive directors of ACLU California affiliates, the bill as amended relies on “an overly broad presumption of preventative detention.”

“As much as we would welcome an end to the predatory lending practices of the for-profit bail industry, SB 10 cannot promise a system with a substantial reduction in pretrial detention,” according to the ACLU. “Neither can SB 10 provide sufficient due process nor adequately protect against racial biases and disparities that permeate our justice system.”

Opponents of the measure contend it relies too heavily on algorithms to assess the risk of keeping criminal defendants behind bars while awaiting trial.

Those algorithms are “incredibly inaccurate,” according to John Raphling, a senior researcher on criminal justice for Human Rights Watch.

The scoring system uses ZIP codes, housing status and employment data as proxies for race and economic status and would continue to penalize low- income and minority defendants, according to Raphling and Pete White, executive director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network.

“This bill says no way out,” White said. “And so we say kill the bill.”

Backers of the bill say that quantitative data would play only one part in assessing the danger posed by any individual defendant because judges would have access to other information.

The bill requires local courts to set up systems to identify individuals who are a risk to public safety or at risk of missing their court date, but allows jurisdictions to dictate the specifics, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach.

The result would be that a “vast majority” of people would be released from jail within 12-24 hours of their arrest, according to the bill’s sponsors.

— City News Service

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