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Last year, we blogged about efforts in the Legislature to transform California’s outdated, show-me-the-money bail system. The current pretrial system emphasizes wealth over risk by allowing defendants with access to sufficient cash and property to bail out of jail, regardless of the threat they may pose to victims or to the public at large. Meanwhile, people who can’t scrape together the resources needed to purchase a bail bond — or who don’t want to take on an excessive amount of bail bond debt — are forced to languish in jail until their case is resolved.

The Budget Center’s focus on bail reform will continue at our annual conference, Policy Insights 2018, which will be held in Sacramento on March 22. A panel of experts — who are listed at the end of this post — will highlight current efforts at the state and local levels to transform California’s broken bail system. Panelists will also draw attention to the benefits of adopting a new approach to pretrial justice that is more equitable and effective — and that better reflects California’s values.

This Policy Insights workshop comes at a time when calls for bail reform are multiplying across California, including among our state’s political and judicial leaders. Some key milestones on the road to bail reform over the past couple of years include the following:

  • March 2016: Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, calls for a review of the bail system. In her 2016 State of the Judiciary address, the Chief Justice made news by questioning “whether or not bail effectively serves its purpose” and “really ensure[s] public safety.” Moreover, she argued that “we must not penalize the poor for being poor.”
  • October 2016: Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye creates a “Pretrial Detention Reform Workgroup.” The purpose of this workgroup: to “study current pretrial detention practices and provide recommendations for potential reforms.”
  • December 2016: Two identical bills to reform the bail system, Assembly Bill 42 (Bonta) and Senate Bill 10 (Hertzberg), are introduced in the state Legislature. Persistent efforts by bail reform advocates, both in California and around the nation, paved the way for this transformative legislation. While AB 42 died in the Assembly, state Senators passed SB 10 on a 26-11 vote last May. SB 10 advanced to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, where it was held pending further negotiations.
  • August 2017: Governor Brown and other key state leaders commit to working together to reform California’s bail system. The Governor, along with Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye, Senator Hertzberg, and Assemblymember Bonta, pledged to work toward bail reform and to revisit SB 10 in 2018. The Governor affirmed that “inequities exist in California’s bail system” and said he “look[s] forward to working…on ways to reform the system in a cost-effective and fair manner, considering public safety as well as the rights of the accused.”
  • October 2017: The Chief Justice’s pretrial detention workgroup releases a report calling the current bail system “unsafe and unfair” and recommending “major and dramatic changes.” The workgroup concluded that California’s current system “unnecessarily compromises victim and public safety because it bases a person’s liberty on financial resources rather than the likelihood of future criminal behavior and exacerbates socioeconomic disparities and racial bias.” The report advanced 10 recommendations, including replacing the current monetary bail system with “a robust risk-based pretrial assessment and supervision system.”
  • January 2018: In a case known as Humphrey on Habeas Corpus, a state appellate court rules that judges cannot set bail at impossible-to-pay levels without first applying constitutionally required due process protections. The First District Court of Appeal ruled that “the trial court erred in setting bail at $350,000 without inquiring into and making findings regarding petitioner’s ability to pay and alternatives to money bail and, if petitioner’s financial resources would be insufficient and the order would result in his pretrial detention, making the findings necessary for a valid order of detention.”
  • February 2018: California’s attorney general announces that he will not appeal the Humphrey decision and calls for bail reform. “It’s time for bail reform now,” said Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “Bail decisions should be based on danger to the public, not dollars in your pocket.”

The next milestone on the road to bail reform in California could be the unveiling of a newly amended SB 10, which — as noted above — passed the state Senate last year and is currently sitting in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. (It’s unclear when an updated version of this bail reform legislation is likely to be released.) As momentum for bail reform continues to build, our March 22 panel discussion on improving California’s pretrial justice system will feature the following speakers:

  • Mica Doctoroff, a legislative attorney with the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy and Policy;
  • Peter Espinoza, a former superior court judge and current director of the Los Angeles County Office of Diversion and Reentry;
  • Raj Jayadev, coordinator of Silicon Valley De-Bug; and
  • Krista Niemczyk, public policy manager with the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.

These experts will address bail reform in California from a wide range of perspectives. We hope you can join us in Sacramento on March 22 for this thought-provoking discussion!

— Scott Graves

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