California Senate Approves Bail Reform Legislation

Bill would ensure California doesn’t jail people simply because they can’t afford bail; another identical bill is awaiting a floor vote in the Assembly

(From Press Release)—Today, the California Senate approved SB 10, a bill to reform and modernize California’s money bail system, on a bipartisan 25-11 vote. The bill was introduced by Senator Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) in partnership with Assemblymember Bonta (D-Oakland), who also introduced identical bail reform legislation, AB 42. Together, SB 10 and AB 42 comprise The California Money Bail Reform Act. The Assembly is expected to take AB 42 up for a floor vote later this week.

SB 10 and AB 42 will help ensure California jails do not hold people pretrial simply because they cannot afford bail. The bills instead prioritize services to help people make their court appearances, curbing the state’s over reliance on money bail and mass incarceration. The legislation builds upon common-sense solutions adopted in other localities that have significantly reduced their use of commercial bail, such as Kentucky, New Jersey and Santa Clara, California.

“Money bail represents one of the largest barriers to fair and equitable treatment for California families and communities in our justice system, especially for low-income communities of color,” said Jessica Bartholow, Policy Advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “The California Money Bail Reform Act is a beacon of hope for people who cannot afford equal justice today.”

Every year, California jails thousands of low-income people who have not been convicted simply because they cannot afford to post bail. Over 60 percent of people in California jails are there awaiting trial or sentencing, costing taxpayers $5 million a day. Many of them remain in jail for weeks, months, and sometimes years while their cases move forward — or plead guilty to a crime they may not have committed in order to be released sooner, return to their families, and avoid being subjected to violence and poor conditions in California jails. Detaining people in jail while their cases move forward can have significant and long-lasting impacts on the outcome of people’s cases, as well as their health, wellbeing, and economic security.

“The pain, hardship, stress and emotional toll my family went through was one of the worst experiences of my life,” said Ato Walker, Community Organizer with Silicon Valley De-Bug, who was arrested and had bail set to $85,000. His mother signed a contract with a for-profit bail agency to get him released while he fought the charges. Soon after he was arrested, the charges were dropped, but the $8,500 his mother paid the bail agency were gone for good. Typically, for profit bail agencies charge a non-refundable 10 percent fee based on someone’s total bail amount. However, defendants and their families are on the hook to pay that money regardless of whether a court finds someone innocent or whether the District Attorney drops the charges against them.

Meanwhile, wealthy defendants are able to post bail and buy their freedom with ease. Moreover, because Black and Latino people are more likely to be jailed than white people while their cases move forward, money bail systems fuel already egregious racial disparities in the justice system. Research shows that Black people and Latinos are assigned 35 percent and 19 percent higher bail amounts, respectively, than white people accused of similar offenses.

“Relying on individual wealth, rather than risk to public safety to determine who can be released while they await trial does little to promote safety in our communities,” said John Bauters, Director of Government Relations with Californians for Safety and Justice. “The California Money Bail Reform Act will help ensure California prioritizes community safety and wellbeing over individual wealth.”

State lawmakers carefully designed SB 10 and AB 42 in large part based on the successes of other jurisdictions to reform California’s pretrial system. Kentucky, for example, releases about 70 percent of people awaiting the resolution of their cases; 90 percent of them make all their future court appearances and 92 percent stay arrest-free while they wait for their cases to go forward. In contrast, in California under our current system, the rate at which people return to court after release is lower than in the rest of the country.

The California Money Bail Reform Act is sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union of California, the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Californians for Safety and Justice, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Essie Justice Group, the California Public Defenders Association, Silicon Valley De-Bug, SEIU California, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

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  1. Linda Deos

    Passage of this Bail Reform from the California Senate is great news. This is an important step toward eliminating another kind of debtor’s prison. Thank you to all of our California senators, including Senator Dodd, for voting yes for this bill. Now let’s make sure that Assembly Member Aguiar-Curry votes in favor as well.

  2. Jim Hoch

    It’s a good effort as holding people because they are poor is not very effective.

    It will be hard to see savings in the near term as the facilities are already built and laying off jail staff is harder than it may sound.

    Maybe they can get ICE contracts for the space?

  3. Howard P

    Interesting minor, but frequent occurrence… you get a MV ticket… you get a notice that whether you choose to just “pay the ticket”, attend traffic school, request a jury trial, or go for a ‘Trial by Declaration’, you have to “submit the bail”. $243 in the example that I was shown… no matter what…

    If you do traffic school, you have to pay an additional $71 ‘administrative fee’, and pay the traffic school and spend a day there.

    A ‘misuse’ of “bail”?

    1. Jim Hoch

      If you get a jaywalking ticket and don’t pay it you get a “failure to appear” which is a misdemeanor. If you are arrested on a Friday you sit in the can at taxpayers expense until Monday.

      “Night Court” is just an old TV show in California.

      1. Howard P

        David is correct. [except I would have used the term, “very, very seldom other than cite and release…”]

        Pretty sure ‘jay-walking’ is not a MV that shows up as a point on DMV or insurance. Really poor comparison.

        It might get you beat up, though…

        1. Howard P

          Really?  By itself, or was there a FTA that is an adjunct to ‘skipping bail’ or being released w/o bail, or being charged with a crime that no bail is given as an option?


          Does not appear credible, given those who are not able to ‘make bail’ in the first place (so they remain in jail for fear that they may be a FTA), and OR is granted to relatively few.

          Suspect in Yolo county, at any given time, ‘jail’ (as opposed to prison) most in jail are there on drug/alcohol cites, where they need to be reasonably sober before release (w/o bail, BTW) or crimes where the bail is set higher than they or friends/families can afford, or crimes that make them ineligible for bail until adjudicated.

          I don’t think you can point to a majority of folk in jail are there due to FTA.  Show us the numbers, may become convinced, and apologize… until then…

        2. David Greenwald

          Based on my experience in Yolo it’s very rare to see somebody actually remanded to custody or have they already vote based on a failure to appear. So I took off for a cite

          1. David Greenwald

            Based on my experience in Yolo it’s very rare to see somebody actually remanded to custody or have bail revoked based on a failure to appear. So I agree with Howard P that I would like to see a cite for the claim.

  4. David Greenwald

    I found this to be interesting: • Santa Clara County, California uses a locally validated pretrial risk assessment tool that saved $33 million in six months

    by keeping 1,400 defendants out of jail.21 Pretrial release costs the county just $15-$25 per day compared to $204 per day for jail. The county maintains a 95% court appear- ance rate and a 99% public safety rate of defendants released without supervision.

  5. Jim Hoch

    I took a quick look at 853.7 and could not find any statistics. Will try again later. 

    “$204 per day for jail” That is an interesting number though not sure how relevant it is. Typically institutions will take expenditures and allocate across services to get a per person/ per day figure. However as many of those costs are sunk lowering utilization does not decrease costs and only results in an increased per day rate for the remaining inmates. 


    1. David Greenwald

      That’s supposedly the additive cost of each additional person. But I don’t know how that’s derived. While I think you have a point about sunk costs, at some point added inmates trigger additional need for staffing, so while it’s probably not one-to-one there is an incremental increase of cost.

      1. Jim Hoch

        ” added inmates trigger additional need for staffing” That would be true if the jails were only running at partial capacity. Many are full or close to it and they manage the population by early releases. Therefore there will be no additional staffing. Will lowering the census result in lowering staffing levels? I’m skeptical given the relationship between unions and politicians but it could happen.

        1. Howard P

          Immediate term, Jim, you’re likely right… longer term, David’s and other arguments may make a lot of sense… both financially, and otherwise.

          Gotta’ get me a ‘Crystal Ball 3.5’… then I would ‘know’…

          1. David Greenwald

            I’m actually in favor of eliminating bail altogether, but the risk assessment programs like DC and Santa Clara appear to work, I’m not sure why Jim’s arguing against that approach.

  6. Jim Hoch

    ” I’m not sure why Jim’s arguing against that approach.”\

    I’m not arguing against that approach at all. i do think the results of this have not been well thought out. The savings numbers are likely imaginary. The other immediate impact I see is  on the sentenced population. Right now many of the sentenced inmates in jails are given early kick-outs. As you reduce the unsentenced population likely they will serve more time.

    1. Howard P

      As you reduce the unsentenced population likely they will serve more time.

      Good point, on the purely economic side… and leads into other issues, such as, if they can be released early, should they have been sentenced so severely in the first place?  I don’t pretend to know.

      Just to be clear, we’re talking ‘jails’ (local), not ‘prisons’ (state), right?

      1. Howard P

        Just a random thought… if we cleared out the jails, we could arrest the homeless (no way for bail), provide them with shelter, food, supervision, etc., and not need new facilities, personnel, etc.  No net new costs…

        Nah, that’s just silly!

    2. David Greenwald

      The savings are not the reason to do this – I agree on that point.

      On the other hand, a lot of people end up serving time in jail, take pleas because of it, who would have been given probation and not had to serve time and in a lot of cases that increases their financial hardship

      1. Howard P

        OK… thought you had to be convicted/pled guilty/nolo contendre to get probation… so how does that increase their financial hardship?  Meant as an honest question…

        1. David Greenwald

          Yes, you do have to be convicted or cop a plea to get probation.

          Once you cop to a plea (97 percent of cases never go to trial), the judge will impose a sentence on you and often it is a grant of probation.  In many of those cases, they give time served and probation, but if they were out of custody, they may just get probation.  That means they will have spent time in custody rather than at home, working.  Hence the financial burden.

        2. Howard P

          Got it… time in custody, when employed (or @ home, where others need to be paid to care for others), and unable to use ‘leave time’…

          That would be a definite hardship for some, inconvenience to others…

          BTW, also thanks for the #’s re: %-age of cases going to trial… found it interesting…

  7. Mike Brock

    So, all of a sudden, the monetary bail system is somehow flawed and in need of immediate reform?  After all these years?  I think not.
    The problem with this so called reform “movement” is that the judiciary has always had the statutory option and ability to release arrestees on their “own recognizance” (OR) for decades. OR doesn’t require legislative intervention nor the unnecessary acquisition and funding of law enforcement and judicial administrative personnel. Magistrates simply need to be encouraged to use the tools already at their disposal.
    The other significant flaw in the logic is the presumption that the problem is legislative rather than socio-political. (It is not.) The only thing it accomplishes are optics. Politicians are simply pandering to and exploiting the poor while further eroding our individual rights.
    In doing so, politicians are destroying a self-sustaining privatized industry (bail bond agencies) to shift control into yet another layer of governmental bureaucracy while conveniently ignoring the tools the judiciary already has at its disposal.
    The poor will gain no value from this contrived movement. Instead, politicians are manipulating this contrived “movement” to buy the votes necessary to solidify their power base. It’s the wrong thing for the wrong reasons.

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