California to Do Away with Cash Bail System


In sweeping reforms announced this week the state of California has done away with its cash bail system. Release from custody for defendants will be determined by a public-risk assessment conducted by court employees or a contracted public agency.

The move is intended to address what reformers consider inequalities in the bail system.

“Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly,” said California’s governor Jerry Brown.

“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,” California State Assembly Member Rob Bonta said. Bonta is one of the sponsors of the bill.

Reform advocates have long contended the cash bail system favors the wealthy by allowing some to get out of jail quickly while the disadvantaged are kept in custody until courts act, or are forced to obtain terms from a bond agent causing them to incur debt.

Under the new system, court employees or a local public agency that has been contracted, will conduct a pretrial assessment on an individual. That assessment determines the likelihood of an individual committing a new crime while released or not showing up for a court date. Defendants are assessed as low, medium or high risk. Based on that assessment recommendations for conditions of release are made.

Individuals deemed high risk, such as those arrested for violent felonies, are not eligible for release.

The law is not without its detractors however. The ACLU believes the law does not go far enough in addressing inequalities in the system.

“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 ACLU. “Indeed, key provisions of the new law create significant new risks and problems.”

The California Money Bail Reform Act, as it’s known, passed in the California State Senate by a vote of 26-12, and California’s General Assembly by 42-31. The new law will go into effect on October 1, 2019.

Photo by Herb Neufeld via Flickr

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