Guest Commentary: Los Angeles Cities Are Wrong to Oppose Bail Reforms That Make Us Safer

By Miriam Aroni Krinsky

Last fall, Los Angeles County implemented a well-researched bail policy that enabled judges to decide who should be released from jail before trial based on their risk to the community, not the size of their wallet. You would think that those who have expressed deep concern about public safety would support a policy that helps make sure people who are a danger to our community cannot simply pay their way out of jail. Instead, opponents of these reforms have peddled rampant misinformation meant to scare the public and the legal system into returning to the failed status quo.

Within days of the change in bail policy, a group of small cities sued to take us back to Los Angeles’s earlier discriminatory system and are expected to file an amended complaint in court this week. The litigation has sparked a wave of fearmongering, with some law enforcement officials and commentators baselessly arguing the new bail policy would cause “total lawlessness.”

As a former decades-long prosecutor who now works with district attorneys in California and across the country, I know this type of attack on bail reform is nothing but a harmful distraction. District attorneys working under similar reforms, even those who didn’t initially support them, have found that better, fairer bail decisions make us safer. That’s because research shows even 24 hours of pretrial incarceration destabilizes a person, their family, and their community, all while increasing the likelihood of future arrests. Moreover, under a cash bail system like the prior one in Los Angeles, rich people accused of violent crimes can buy their freedom while those who pose no threat to the community are forced to remain behind bars simply because they’re poor.

Thankfully, last month an Orange County judge rejected the cities’ lawsuit, ruling that it was not a viable legal argument, nor a proven way to promote public safety. The early evidence from the Superior Court backs this up. Unsurprisingly, less than three percent of people released under the new system were rearrested, and a similar policy in place during the pandemic resulted in a decrease in rearrests for both misdemeanors and felonies.

This week, the cities will get the chance to re-file their lawsuit, spending more taxpayer dollars to drum up fear and stymie this much-needed change. If they were truly invested in the public safety and justice they’re calling for, they could instead spend their time and resources on things that will actually keep their communities safe, like effective alternative crisis response for people experiencing mental health challenges and proven harm reduction approaches to substance use disorder. Instead, sadly, this legal charade seems poised to continue.

And as racial disparities stubbornly persist in prosecutions and incarceration, we should be especially mindful of how we decide who remains free. According to a UCLA report about Los Angeles’s old cash bail system, Black and Latino Angelenos paid close to $30 million in non-refundable bail deposits in just one year. At the same time, nearly $518 million in bail was levied on houseless individuals, who likely languished in jail because they couldn’t possibly hope to make the payments needed for release.

As Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón has recognized, a system that suggests people without money are inherently dangerous is a system in which prosecutors cannot live up to their mandate to do justice.

For all these reasons, the county smartly moved away from cash bail, and it would be an immense mistake to go back.

When decisions are made based on public safety – instead of the size of an individual’s bank account – we can better serve the interests of justice, prevent future victimization, and reduce harm instead of exacerbating it. So, when leaders choose to spend resources and energy perpetuating fear about bail reform, they are choosing to protect a system that makes us less safe. For the health and well-being of our county, we should not let them derail this much-needed and long overdue change.

Originally published in the Los Angeles Daily News

Miriam Aroni Krinsky is the Executive Director of Fair and Just Prosecution, a former federal prosecutor, and the author of Change from Within: Reimagining the 21st Century Prosecutor.

About The Author

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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