Governor Brown Commits to Bail Reform, but Not in 2017

On Friday, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Senator Bob Hertzberg and Assemblymember Rob Bonta announced a joint commitment to working together on reforms to California’s bail system that prioritize public safety and cost-efficiency.

As such, work on SB 10, the California Money Bail Reform Act of 2017 – authored by Senator Hertzberg and Assemblymember Bonta – will continue throughout the fall and the bill will be revisited early next year, in the second year of the two-year legislative session.

“I believe that inequities exist in California’s bail system and I look forward to working this fall on ways to reform the system in a cost-effective and fair manner, considering public safety as well as the rights of the accused,” said Governor Brown.

“During my State of the Judiciary address last year I suggested that the current bail system may not effectively serve its intended purpose of protecting public safety and ensuring court appearance without disproportionately impacting low-income Californians. I subsequently appointed a Pretrial Detention Reform Work Group to study current pretrial detention practices and provide recommendations for potential reforms. I look forward to sharing these recommendations with the Governor and Legislature as we work together to improve our bail system,” said Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye.

Announced last October, the Chief Justice appointed 11 judges and one court executive to the Work Group, which is scheduled to report back to her by December 2017, to seek input from criminal justice stakeholders, advocacy organizations, and bail industry representatives.

“The truth is today, under the cash bail system, if you can write a check, public safety doesn’t matter. We need a system that prioritizes public safety and restores justice to the pretrial process, regardless of income level. Working with the Governor and the Chief Justice, we will find the right balance by fine-tuning the details in SB 10. This also gives us additional time to further investigate the bail market in California,” said Senator Hertzberg.

“Our momentum in support of bail reform continues to grow. We are very grateful to the Governor and the Chief Justice for recognizing the need to prioritize this legislation and for their unprecedented commitment to partner with us in creating reform that enhances public safety and ensures equal justice,” said Assemblymember Bonta.

“The current bail system punishes those without money and favors the wealthy. The human toll of money bail is devastating.  People who can’t afford to buy their freedom can lose their jobs, their homes, their cars, and even their children if they cannot gain their liberty,” said the Assemblymember in an earlier statement.

“Justice shouldn’t be based on how much money you’ve got in your pocket,” Assemblymember Bonta said. “We have a profit-based bail system where a whole industry makes money off of posting bail.”

Advocates of bail reform issued a statement on Friday indicating support for the Governor’s and Chief Justice’s commitment to reform California’s bail system:

“We are encouraged by Governor Brown and Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye’s unprecedented commitment to see these reforms to the finish line early next year. As a coalition, we remain committed to lifting up the voices of people impacted by our unjust bail system to adopt proven solutions, including pretrial services, that improve public safety for all Californians, without denying justice and freedom to low-income people awaiting trial,” the group said in a statement on Friday.

They added, “For years, California’s bail system has failed to achieve its intended purpose of promoting public safety and court appearance, instead leading to the unjust detention of countless Californians who simply could not afford to buy their freedom.”

The groups include: 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.

SB 10 and AB 42 are identical bills that have the intent of safely reducing the number of people held in pretrial detention “while addressing racial and economic disparities in the pretrial system, to ensure that people are not held in pretrial detention simply because of their inability to afford money bail.”

The bills would revise pretrial release procedure and require, except when the person is arrested for certain felonies, “that a pretrial services agency conduct a pretrial risk assessment on an arrested person and prepare a pretrial services report that includes the results of the pretrial risk assessment and recommendations on conditions of release for the person immediately upon booking.”

They would then issue an oral or written order “to release the person, with or without release conditions, subject to the person signing a specified release agreement.”

The bills would therefore end the use of money bail schedules that judges use to release people from jail while cases are pending.

However, critics point to, among other things, a huge cost on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a May Assembly Appropriations Committee analysis.

The state would also face the ongoing expenses to pay court-appointed lawyers for defendants, according to the analysis.  The Assembly committee further found that there would be costs for future oversight of the new bail system and for helping counties develop a “risk assessment” tool in carrying out the new rules.

These details and the findings of the Chief Justice’s working group will be worked out most likely before the final legislation comes forward in 2018.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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