California abolished money bail after Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed Senate Bill 10 (SB 10), a sweeping overhaul of California’s detention system.
SB 10, authored by state Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) and Assemblyman Robert Bonita (D-Alameda), does away with the state’s money bail system and instead allows judges to determine who should be released from custody following arrest.
Supporters claim that the current system discriminates against poor people who either cannot afford to post bond or place themselves in a financial hardship by doing so.
Shortly after the bill passed the state Senate on Aug. 21 by a vote of 26-12, Brown released a statement indicating he planned to sign it.
“Today, the Legislature took an important step forward in reducing the inequities that have long plagued California’s bail system,” Brown said.
Brown’s signatures means the state bail system will end on Oct. 1, 2019. County courts will begin using algorithms to decide whether suspects pose a risk to public safety should they be released, and if they pose a flight risk.
Brown has long railed against the state’s bail system. In his 1979 State of the State address Brown called bail a “tax on poor people” in California.
“Thousands and thousands of people languish in the jails of this state even though they have been convicted of no crime. Their only crime is that they cannot make the bail that our present law requires,” Brown said at the time.
Assemblyman and former Pasadena Mayor Chris Holden supported the bill, saying it is the first step in reforming the penal system.
“Our current bail system punishes poverty,” said Holden via email. “Senate Bill 10 is a step in the right direction, but we have more work ahead of us on this issue.”
Under the new law, courts will measure risk assessments of individuals and use nonmonetary conditions of release.
People accused of nonviolent misdemeanors will be released within 12 hours after being booked. However, people with serious or violent felony convictions, multiple failures to appear or allegations involving domestic violence do not qualify for release. Judges will decide how to assess who is at low, moderate or high risk of reoffending or fleeing when determining whether someone should be released after an arrest.
Defendants will not be required to pay for monitoring devices, such as ankle bracelets.
Critics claim that the bill gives judges too much power, which could lead to decisions based on racial and social biases.
But some critics claim it diminishes a judge’s power to hold people suspected of misdemeanors.
“Sacramento politicians want to blow up the entire system because they have heard of extremely rare cases of individuals locked up for minor offenses and losing their jobs,” wrote Eric Siddall, vice president of the Los Angeles County Association of Deputy District Attorneys in a June 2017 column that appeared in the Pasadena Weekly.
“No question we need to stop this from happening. It is clearly unfair. But it is equally absurd to strip away victims’ rights, diminish the power of judges to hold a person in custody and presume the release of defendants to overcorrect for the inequities on the other end of the spectrum.”
The bill was originally supported by the state American Civil Liberties Union. However, the ACLU pulled its support shortly before the vote, claiming the bill would give judges too much of a say.
“After further serious consideration, the ACLU of California has changed its position on the recently amended SB 10 to oppose. 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. Neither can SB 10 provide sufficient due process nor adequately protect against racial biases and disparities that permeate our justice system,” wrote Hector Villagra of the group’s Southern California branch.
Pasadena bail bondsman Ismael Trone said the governor’s action will decimate the bail bond industry. Trone said his family plans to shutter F&M Bail Bonds now that Brown has signed the bill.
The California Bail Agents Association claims fewer people will show up for court dates.
“It is a good idea because of the corruption in the industry. The state imposes a 10 percent fee on all bail bond agencies. If somebody cannot afford it, companies force them to make monthly payments with high interest rates. It can put people in in a financial hardship. On the other hand, I do worry about it giving judges too much power,” said Trone.
Advocates claim that too many Californians remain stuck in custody because they cannot afford to bail out, effectively creating unequal justice based on wealth disparities.
According to a May 2017 report by UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs, the median bail amount in California is about $50,000, five times higher than the rest of the country.
The report estimates 90 percent of individuals remain in jail because they cannot afford their bail.
“While defendants await trial in jail custody, they are unable to attend to their obligations, such as working, going to school, paying rent, or caring for family members,” the report states.
The report also says that the current bail system may perpetuate racial disparities in the state’s criminal justice system, particularly among African-American and Latino populations, who it says are disproportionately represented within the state’s pretrial jail population.
Interim Pasadena Police Chief John Perez supports bail reform, but says there are parts of the bill that worry him.
“Most of what SB 10 offers is positive,” Perez told the Pasadena Weekly. “If someone commits a misdemeanor, this offers them a lot of opportunities to avoid a financial hardship. The issue that worries me is if a sex crime is deemed a misdemeanor they would have to be released in 12 hours. That makes it difficult to support.”
According to Perez, several sex crimes, including lewd conduct, can be misdemeanors, which could allow some sexual predators to slip through the cracks of the justice system.
Earlier this month, Pasadena police arrested a 48-year-old developmentally disabled man on suspicion of harassing a 4-year-old girl who was found undressed in the play area of a Pasadena Chic-fil-A restaurant, police said.
The suspect, whose name was not immediately released, was arrested on suspicion of harassing a child and was booked at the Pasadena Police Department.
“He was charged with a misdemeanor,” Perez said. “Under SB 10 he would have been released 12 hours later. We have to be careful we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, (D-San Diego) said she shares some of the concerns about the bill, but thinks it is a step in the right direction.
“I have learned over all the years of my life that change is hard, it is difficult,” Weber said. “And often, out of fear of change, we do nothing, and things don’t get better, they get worse. And it requires courage sometimes to step forward and not just make that change, but work to make that change right.”