CA Legislature Rejects Gov’s Faulty Plan to Boost Pretrial Pilot Programs; Coalition Urges ‘Community-based Pretrial Services’

By The Vanguard Staff

SACRAMENTO, CA – The State Legislature has rejected Gov. Newsom’s May budget revision to add more than $200 million over the next several years to controversial pretrial programs, and now a coalition of justice reform advocates have a better idea.

The Care First CA coalition called Newsom’s pretrial programs not only “a step backwards, but antithetical to what the people of California want,” and applauded the Legislature for refusing to approve the governor’s plan to expand the “power and influence on pretrial systems statewide.”

Instead, the Coalition Monday urged the governor to “align with the legislature and allocate dollars for pretrial in a way that creates authentic public safety via community-based pretrial services, rather than continued funding of probation-led pretrial services that deeply harm our communities.”

The Care First CA Coalition said it was “born out of a popular mandate to begin questioning, in earnest, a system that jails legally innocent people by the thousands,” and argues California “can and should fund effective community-led pretrial programs that provide support and protect public safety, in ways that probation has failed to do.”

The Care First California Coalition explains it is “an alliance of community organizations, directly impacted people, state and national advocacy groups, civil rights advocates and public defenders who seek to replace the carceral system with a system that provides support and care for all people in need.”

It has joined “together to promote comprehensive pretrial reform through our legislative model, preserving the Presumption of Innocence” (PPI) that ends money bail, rejects risk assessments, dramatically reduces the number of people eligible for pretrial incarceration, guarantees due process rights and develops community-based pretrial services and supports for survivors of crime, completely independent of law enforcement.”

“Further encroachment into the lives of Californians by a criminal punishment system that is corrupt and abusive, and refuses to be transparent, is exactly the thing that voters keep demanding we move away from,” said Lex Steppling, Director of Campaigns and Policy for Dignity and Power NOW, and a member of the Care First California Coalition.

The rejection of the governor’s plan by lawmakers is a “healthy example of the democratic process — one that we hope is a sign of things to come, as communities across California put forth pretrial visions that lean towards supportive services and non-carceral solutions and away from law enforcement,” added Steppling.

The Coalition notes pretrial services in California counties are now less acceptable form the “longstanding and failed models that have caused harm for generations,” yet the state “needs to be reminded that the people, not the Probation lobby or Judicial Council, have the answers.”

The coalition, sounding the call of others in the police reform criminal justice reform movements, maintain the Legislature and governor can invest in community-based pretrial services “independent of law enforcement.”

Key in the coalition’s plan is that the criminal justice system must “guarantee” due process and fair hearings, and  “preserve” the presumption of innocence by limiting the judge’s discretion to incarcerate people– 70 percent or more of those in county jails are awaiting trial, and not convicted of anything.

Without changes, the coalition said, judges are, at will, “imposing burdensome release conditions, like electronic monitoring and drug testing, that set people up for re-incarceration.”

Care First California coalition wants “pretrial services agencies, independent of law enforcement, that help people get to court while ensuring safety for all people involved.” The models should be funded by the state but run by counties, giving them “flexibility and autonomy to fund the pretrial models that are right for them.”

Santa Clara and San Francisco County have these kind of systems now, without law enforcement’s involvement, and social workers, targeted supportive services, and automatic text reminders are “successful in creating a sustainable and fair pretrial justice system, while simultaneously delivering better public safety impacts.”

“Services that are delivered by independent, community-based organizations are more responsive to the needs of justice-involved people and have far better outcomes — outcomes rooted in economic and racial justice,” said Eunisses Hernandez, Co-Founder and Executive Director of La Defensa.

Hernandez added the governor “should not wait to invest in proven pretrial models; instead, the governor must align with the legislature and redirect his proposed funding to community-based pretrial services during this budget cycle. This is a pressing need that has material outcomes for the lives of our people.”

The longer someone is locked in a jail, the more likely they are to reoffend, according to studies.

Dolores Canales, Community Outreach Director for The Bail Project, argues, “The harms of pretrial detention are well-documented: pretrial detention punishes people presumed to be innocent without them having been convicted, it costs taxpayers greatly.

“It causes people to lose jobs, homes, healthcare, and connection to family, and it coerces people to plead guilty regardless of actual guilt, because prosecutors and judges offer freedom in exchange for guilty pleas.”

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