Legislation Introduced to Eliminate Unnecessary Uses of Bench Warrants and Prevent Debtor’s Prison

Assemblymember Ash Kalra

Special to the Vanguard

Sacramento, CA – Bench warrants deepen existing racial and economic disparities in California by unnecessarily incarcerating low-income Black and Brown people as punishment for not being able to afford to pay fines.

As the United States is home to less than 5% of the world’s population but nearly 25% of its incarcerated people, we must shift away from draconian laws that over-police the poor and diminish opportunities for low-income Black and Brown people.

To address these inequities, Assemblymember Ash Kalra on Thursday introduced a measure, AB 1266, that would eliminate the use of bench warrants for minor infractions.  The bill is sponsored by Debt Free Justice California.

“Bench warrants are a relic of the racist and classist mass incarceration-era, when the state expanded its police power for violations of infractions. This has disproportionately punished the working class, particularly Black and Brown members of our community, for violations that are not punishable by jail time,” said Assemblymember Kalra.

He said, “AB 1266 will ensure low-income Californians are not forced to languish in jail for not having the money to pay fines or unknowingly missing a court order to appear.”

Research shows that the use of bench warrants is ineffective in compelling people to pay unaffordable fines.

In fact, alternatives appear to be more effective at encouraging court appearances and fine payments.

In New York City, text message reminders decreased the failure to appear by 26% and Harris County, Texas, saw a decrease in failure to appear by 32% after redesigning court date notices and sending text message reminders.

“Bench warrants are one of many ways California wages a war against people without money. It has never served any legitimate purpose,” explained Elisa Della-Piana, Legal Director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, member organization of DFJC.

She said, “After an unexpected arrest for a small infraction, low-income people can lose their jobs, their chance at housing, their stability, or even custody of their children. A warrant often causes traumatic fear of arrest and deportation for immigrants.”

She added, “All these adverse long-term consequences are deeply unnecessary and out of proportion for the most minor tickets, like loitering or jaywalking.”

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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