California Becomes First State to Abolish Cash Bail, But Supporters of the Bill Aren’t Happy
California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a bill into law that abolishes cash bail.
California is the first U.S. state to abolish cash bail, with Gov. Brown saying that everyone will now be treated “equally and fairly” when awaiting trial in the state. A majority of Californians, especially advocacy groups, have expressed positivity that cash bail is no longer an option, but a turn in events may soon make that joy short-lived.
Bail Out, Risk Assessment In
Justice reform groups and other proponents of the bill have begun to withdraw their support of the new law, including ACLU, Human Rights Watch, and San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, among several others.
The new law is too weighted in one direction.
While abolishing cash bail seems to be a generally well-received move, the new law places too much power in the hands of local judges. San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi says the new law gives unchecked power to judges, to the detriment of poorer citizens.
“The good is that it eliminates money bail completely, and the bail industry will no longer have a role in profiting from people who have no choice but to post bail,” says Adachi. “But in many ways, it replaces one evil with one that’s even worse in that it gives unbridled discretion and power to judges.”
Formerly, when an offender was arraigned before a judge, they were charged a bail amount that must be posted for their release. However, a judge could deny a bail bond where they believe a defendant constitutes a public threat or could disappear after release. Under the new system, nonviolent offenders must be rated on a risk assessment tool before they qualify for release.
Bail reform advocates initially wanted the old bail system abolished because, according to them, poor folks who were not able to meet bail conditions were remanded in jail for as long as it took someone to post bail. Furthermore, accused persons were forced to accept plea deals in order to escape detention, even in cases where they were found not guilty of any and all charges against them. So, in order to overturn the faulty bail system, advocates teamed with State Senator Bob Hertberg to formulate a new bill that would better serve their ideals.
“This Bill, In the 11th Hour, Was Hijacked,” Advocates Say
Earlier supporters now hinge their withdrawal on the notion that judges should not be absolutely trusted, without other checks, to be fair to poor accused persons under the new law. Since local judges are elected into position in California, the fear is that those newly elected officials may want to please the people who voted them into office by detaining defendants rather than releasing them.
Another reason why some people are unhappy with the new law related back to risk assessment tools, which some argue are incapable of determining whether or not the accused is likely to re-offend. Allegedly, the risk assessment tools have been found to be skewed against people of color.
“We got into this because we wanted to eliminate the cash bail system,” says Tia Orr, Director of Government Relations for SEIU California. “For us to be the first state in the nation to do this was something we couldn’t walk away from.”
Gina Clayton-Johnson, Founder and Executive Director of Essie Justice Group, stated: “We entered this in a really pragmatic way. This bill, in the 11th hour, was hijacked.”
According to her, the new law now takes everyone backward instead of moving the court system forward.