SF Public Defenders Calls Zero Bail a Critical Tool to Prevent Spread of COVID-19 in Jails

Public Defender Mano Raju

Today’s Emergency Bail Schedule implementation means people should be released from jails throughout the state starting at 5pm

(From Press Release – SF Public Defender)— On April 6, the Judicial Council of California voted to implement a set of 11 emergency rules to help address the COVID-19 crisis. Those measures included an Emergency Bail Schedule, effective today, which will eliminate cash bail for misdemeanors and most low-level felony offenses with the goal of safely reducing jail populations across California.

The Emergency Bail Schedule applies to people currently held in jail pre-trial, and anyone arrested on the applicable offenses while the emergency rule is in place. The emergency bail schedule outlines 13 exceptions, allowing money bail to be set according to local bail schedules for people arrested for serious or violent felonies, domestic violence, DUIs, and several other offenses.

“I applaud the implementation of the Emergency Bail Schedule, and the Judicial Council’s recognition of the vital role courts play in safely reducing the number of people in jails across California. People forced into congregate spaces like jails are at risk of serious illness and death, and we need to release as many people as we can across the state” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju. “It is always unjust that some people are held in jail simply because they cannot afford to purchase their freedom. Reducing the number of people held pretrial solely because they can’t afford bail will allow court resources to be used more effectively and ensure California continues to flatten the curve.”

“Due to these statewide changes, we should see an increase in people released from jails throughout the state starting today.  Local jurisdictions are required to apply the new bail schedule to every person in pretrial custody and every newly arrested person at 5:00 p.m. today,” said Raju.

“Furthermore, police departments throughout the state should cease arrests immediately for offenses now carrying a  $0 bail amount, and should instead move to a cite-and-release system in order to save critical law enforcement resources and reduce exposure to officers, jail staff, and citizens who would otherwise be brought to jail, booked, and immediately released with an order to return to court at a future date,” said Raju.

“My office and many others have been fighting for years to end money bail because it is a wealth-based system that does not center public safety. Though it has taken an international public health crisis to get us here and the remaining money bail system is still discriminatory and ineffective, this is a big step in the right direction,” said Raju. “Our community is grateful.”

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