No Evidence Zero Bail Contributed to More Crime or Lowered Unsentenced Jail Population, Report Finds

Melinda Aiello takes to Fox in 2020 over concerns over zero bail

By Robert J Hansen

Woodland, CA – Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig, along with most California prosecutors, have not made a secret of their disapproval of the emergency zero-dollar bail policy which the state Supreme Court issued in April 2020.

“When  … people released under mandated zero-bail policies go on to commit additional crimes, including violent offenses such as robbery and murder, there is simply no rational public safety-related basis to continue such a practice post-pandemic, especially in light of the increasing violent crime rates across California,” Reisig said in a press statement last August.

The Yolo DA’s office claimed 70 percent of people released on zero bail committed new crimes, according to the same press release.

But that 70 percent included crimes committed by the same person, a Vanguard analysis of Yolo DA data found.

Our analysis also found 509 people were released under zero bail in the year it looked at the policy.

About 197 of those people committed some sort of crime and the recidivism rate here was 37 percent during that year.

The Yolo District Attorney can blame zero-bail for an increase in crime, but the data reveals crime has fallen from 2017 levels.

The number of arrests in Yolo County from 2016-2021 shows an overall decrease and is relatively flat between the beginning of 2020 to the end of 2021.

New criminal cases referred to the Yolo County DA’s office cases per quarter from 2016 through 2021. (Robert J Hansen)

Data for 2022 or later is not available on the Yolo County Commons portal and is expected to be updated in the not-too-distant future.

On March 25, 2021, the California Supreme Court handed down the Humphrey decision, ruling that setting bail at an amount that a person cannot afford is unconstitutional.

“Unless there is a valid basis for detention, a court must set bail at a level that an accused individual can reasonably afford,” the court held.

A recent report on pretrial release and zero bail surveyed nearly 90 percent of defense attorneys who indicated that prosecutors object to people released “on their own” 75-100 percent of the time.

Forty-four of California’s 58 district attorneys responded to the survey.

Most of these prosecutors stated that this is the same as it was before Humphrey.

Defense attorneys are experiencing many changes and challenges to their practice post-Humphrey that may inhibit their ability to effectively advocate for the pretrial release of their clients, according to the report.

The report, by the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of California Berkeley, found no evidence that Humphrey has resulted in a decrease in the average length of pretrial detention in California.

The ruling was thought to lead to more people being released without bail before they go to trial.

This has not been the case, according to the report, and the Humphrey ruling has also led to some unintended consequences.

“Bail reform in California has been divisive, to say the least,” said Alicia Virani, the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation Director of UCLA Law’s criminal justice program and co-founder of the bail practicum. “But with the Humphrey decision, many thought that we would finally see relief for Californians, particularly Black, brown and Indigenous people who are subject to targeted policing and more likely to be held pretrial.

Issues that have arisen since the Humphrey ruling is that many judges interpret the ruling as having increased their authority to order a no-bail hold and prosecutors have not significantly changed their policies or practices in ways that conform with the Humphrey decision’s mandates.

Multiple probation departments are creating or expanding their pretrial services programs as a result of Humphrey as well.

The report found no evidence that Humphrey resulted in a net decrease in the pretrial jail population in California, resulted in a decrease in median bail amounts or decreased the average length of pretrial detention in California.

Percentage of California counties seeing an increase or decrease in their unsentenced jail population. (UC Berkeley and UCLA)

Almost half of the defense attorneys (43 percent) surveyed stated that judges are releasing people pretrial more frequently than before March 2021, while only 38 percent said judges are releasing people pretrial at the same rate.

Roughly one in five defense attorneys said judges were releasing people less frequently during the emergency zero-bail.

Almost 60 percent of counties in California actually experienced an increase of people in jail and unsentenced.

Data in California about the pretrial custodial population is difficult to come by. The reports extensive CPRA requested information from all courts, district attorneys, sheriffs and probation offices throughout the state.

It became clear to researchers that there is no singular entity in each county tasked with leading the charge on comprehensive data collection.

The report noted Yolo County’s partnership with Measures for Justice on “a potential research project to look at the impact of the multiple bail policy changes in the past two years in Yolo.”

In general, information about the outcomes after someone is booked into custody is widely unavailable, the report found.

“Still, we can assume that the Humphrey decision and its unintended consequences has the greatest implications for California’s Black, brown, and indigenous communities,” the report said.

“Most judges are ignoring Humphrey; a few are not, but loading homeless mentally ill clients with conditions that they can never abide by, then incarcerating them when they fail,” a San Francisco County Public Defender, said.

During the 14-month emergency cycle, the Yolo DA said the 595 individuals released on zero-bail in Yolo County were reviewed for any new arrests in the state of California. It found 420 were rearrested and of those 123 or 29 percent, was for a violent crime.

The re-arrest rate for people released with zero bail was about 42 percent, according to a May, 2021 Yolo DA press release.

In March 2021, the Yolo County Superior Court indicated its intention to end its use of the Emergency Bail Schedule once a 2021 Felony and Misdemeanor Bail schedule is finalized. The judges in each county set bail schedules.

Bail amounts for the crimes of possession of child pornography, felony driving under the influence, stalking and dissuading a witness will be reduced from $50,000 to $5,000.

Domestic violence and elder abuse may be reduced from $50,000 to $15,000 while a number of forcible sex crimes and child molestation crimes could be reduced from either $250,000 or $100,000 to $50,000.

Typically, to post bail an individual needs only to produce ten percent of the bail amount up front.

About The Author

Robert J Hansen is an investigative journalist and economist. Robert is covering the Yolo County DA's race for the Vanguard.

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