California will end the cash bail system in a sweeping reform for the state. Rather than requiring defendants to pay in order to be released before trial, their release will hinge on an assessment of their risk to public safety.
“Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement.
Brown signed the bill Tuesday, and the new law goes into effect Oct. 1, 2019.
California is the first state to eliminate money bail completely, according to the Pretrial Justice Institute, an organization that advocates for pretrial justice reform.
Critics have long contended that the money bail system perpetuates inequality. While some people are able to quickly get out of jail by posting bail, people who aren’t able to afford it sit in jail until the court takes action, or until they work with a bail bond agent to secure their freedom, which can leave them in debt.
“Abolishing money bail and replacing it with a risk-based system will enhance justice and safety. 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,” said Assemblymember Rob Bonta, one the lawmakers who introduced the bill, in a statement.
Under the new law, a pretrial assessment would be done by either court employees or a local public agency that has been contracted to determine a defendant’s risk. That entity would assess the likelihood that the person will not appear in court or commit a new crime while released, and would make a recommendation for conditions of release. The defendant will be assessed as high, medium or low risk.
A person who is deemed as high risk, including those arrested for violent felonies, will not be released.
But some questioned whether dangerous criminals wouldn’t slip through the cracks. Los Angeles Police Detective Lou Turriaga, who sits on the board of the L.A. Police Protective League, said the new law would lead to “more problems.”
“What we’re going to end up having to do is arrest the same person, they turn around and get out again, we’ll have to arrest them again,” Turriaga said. “That’s more police resources.”
Bail bondsman Roger Sayegh also said it was “a very bad idea.”
“If you look at New Jersey, for instance, they already did this and they have seen an increase in crime,” he told KTLA.
The California Money Bail Reform Act, also known as Senate Bill 10, passed in the State Senate with a vote of 26-12, and the General Assembly by 42-31.
“SB 10 puts all Californians on equal footing before the law and makes public safety the only consideration in pretrial detention. This critical reform is long overdue,” Toni Atkins, Senate president pro tempore, said in a statement.
But many still expressed disappointment over the bill, saying it does nothing to address other forms of inequity deeply ingrained in the state’s criminal justice system.
“I’m 28, I live in South L.A., and I’m black,” said Reverend Eddie Anderson of McCarty Memorial Christian Church in Jefferson Park. “I’m probably going to be looked at on paper as more of a high risk.”
The ACLU in California said the bill “is not the model for pretrial justice and racial equity that California should strive for.”
“It cannot guarantee a substantial reduction in the number of Californians detained while awaiting trial, nor does it sufficiently address racial bias in pretrial decision making,” said the three executive directors of the California ACLU affiliates, Abdi Soltani (Northern California), Hector Villagra (Southern California) and Norma Chávez Peterson (San Diego & Imperial Counties). “Indeed, key provisions of the new law create significant new risks and problems.”
The organization pulled its support for the bill earlier this month as the it underwent changes in the state legislature.