Pros and Cons of California’s Bills to Amend the Bail System

Resources about California Senate Bill 10, by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, and Assembly Bill 42, by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, to help you understand the two identical state proposals that would make much needed improvements to California’s bail system.

What’s Wrong with California’s Bail System?

The current bail system keeps poor people (disproportionately People of Color) in prison.

“Studies have shown such policies disproportionately affect people of color and the poor. People who don’t have the means to post bail can lose their employment or housing. Even three days in jail can result in loss of wages, jobs and family connections, leaving some defendants 40% more likely to commit a crime in the future, according to pretrial criminal research commissioned by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, a philanthropic organization focused on education, public pension and criminal justice reforms. ” Some say California’s bail system is broken. Here’s how two legislators plan to help fix it – LA Times

“[P]roponents, including the ACLU and the state’s public defenders, say the change is long overdue. They say too many people await trial behind bars because they and their families can’t scrape together the money to post bail, while wealthier defendants can be quickly released from jail — with minimal consideration of their risk to public safety.” California bill to eliminate bail clears first hurdle – San Jose Mercury News

Is this Mandate Funded?

The mandate itself is not funded, but the main argument by proponents is that the amount of money that the State will save by not holding people in prison will pay for the pretrial services. Law360 found this argument unconvincing:

“Because this is an unfunded mandate, the pretrial services agency will suppress funding for other county programs and agencies like the district attorney’s office, the public defender’s office, the sheriff’s office and mental health services. Recently, New Jersey adopted a similar bail program, and its three-month old program is already estimated to cost over $450 million. AB42 and SB10 are based on the District of Columbia pretrial release system, which costs $65.2 million a year. It is important to note that New Jersey has a quarter of California’s population (39 million) and the population of D.C. is only 670,000 people. If the D.C. system were used to serve California’s population it would cost $3.78 billion per year.” Bail Reform Will Imperil California’s Justice System – Law360

However, the LA Times did a better job providing readers with a thorough analysis of the costs (read the article to learn more and view their bar charts):

“In California, counties including San Francisco, Santa Clara and Ventura have implemented such initiatives in recent years, and officials say there are inherent savings by releasing more people who don’t pose a threat to public safety and have not been convicted of a crime.

But in-depth cost analyses are rare because the county programs are so new, and a report by the Assembly Appropriations Committee showed that getting counties to follow through on the proposed legislation could come with a large price tag.” Some say California’s bail system is broken. Here’s how two legislators plan to help fix it – LA Times

Wouldn’t Eliminating Bail Put Dangerous Criminals Back In Our Communities?

No: “Only offenders not charged with a violent felony would be eligible for the risk assessment. ” Some say California’s bail system is broken. Here’s how two legislators plan to help fix it – LA Times

The LA Times’ handy cheat sheet:

LA Times What SB 10 would do

Stories From People Who Have Suffered Under the Current Bail System

Steph F. – SV De-Bug – April 4, 2017

“What began as a disagreement with a parking control officer directing traffic escalated into several police officers beating me with billy clubs. Worse, I was wrongly charged with resisting arrest with bail set at a whopping $165,000.

While more than 30 letters of support were presented at my bail hearing from coworkers, community organizations and friends, the judge denied my request to be released and instead reduced my bail to $85,000.

[. . .]

I couldn’t believe how many women in Elmwood were held captive simply because of bail-money. Dominguez, a woman I met in there, stressed about her four young children and how her elderly mother could barely maintain herself, let alone care for her babies. Lil’ B slept right next to me, and explained how she got her first DUI. She was 24, from Gilroy, and bail wasn’t even an option. Even Mr. T, my landscape teacher said I wasn’t supposed to be there. If only I was able to report to my job in time, I wouldn’t feel like my life is going in a downward spiral. As a result of not being able to afford bail [for resisting arrest , I lost my job, lost my apartment, and am even in debt. I shouldn’t have to lose it all because of insufficient funds.” Silicon Valley De-Bug | Money Bail Cost Me My Job, Apartment, and

Stephanie Flores Pineda – SV De-Bug – May 5, 2017

“Inside the committee room, there were people testifying who could speak personally about why we need statewide bail reform. Ato Walker, a San Jose resident and a member of Silicon Valley De-Bug, told his story of his family having to pay $8,000 to a bail company — money that is not recoverable — even though the charges against him were eventually dropped. Walker even called out Dog by name, as he laid out the urgent need for change. He told the Assembly members, “We need to stop punishing poor people and their families with money bail, contributing to the deeper criminalization of marginalized groups.” Aaron Johnson, the supervisor of Pretrial Services in Santa Clara County, also spoke on behalf of the bill. He described how pretrial services is a practical and effective alternative to money bail.” Silicon Valley De-Bug | California Bail Fight: State’s Diverse

Ato Walker – SV De-Bug – May 5, 2017

“Seven months after I was arrested, the charges were dropped in pretrial. But the $8,500 fee my mother gave to the bail bond company was non refundable, a permanent setback for her retirement savings. The California Money Bail Reform Act builds off of Santa Clara County’s historic move last fall to drop bail requirements for people awaiting trial. It will fix the state’s money bail system by safely reducing the number of people detained pretrial.” Silicon Valley De-Bug | California’s bail system is unfair to

Silicon Valley De-Bug put together this video to communicate the issues:

Final Note: Could Big Data Be Used to Reduce Pretrial Services Costs?

One of my colleagues suggested that California should use past data to reduce pretrail service costs. It’s possible that data science could be used to help predict a defendant’s public safety risk, but I would imagine that there is a huge lack of data on the actions of people of color released on bail (because many people of color cannot afford bail) which would lead to the risk of analysis for people of color being done on a small and not necessarily representative data set. Even if the data analysis were done based on the crime charged, the charge itself is many times tied to race:

“[W]hites are disproportionately arrested for driving while intoxicated, and Asians are over-represented in arrests for illegal gambling. Blacks are consistently more likely to be arrested for crimes of violence (Hindelang 1978; Elliott and Ageton 1980; Bridges and Weis 1989; U.S. Department of Justice 1993b). In 1993, blacks ac- counted for 45 percent and 50 percent of adult and youth arrestees, respectively, for murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault (Ma- guire and Pastore 1995, pp. 389-90). The crime in which blacks are most overrepresented is robbery (for a fascinating albeit controversial discussion, see Katz 1988), comprising 62 percent of arrestees in 1993. In general, blacks are approximately six times more likely to be ar- rested for violent crimes than are whites (U.S. Department of Justice 1993b).” Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Crime and Criminal Justice in the United States – sampson_racialethnicdisparities.pdf

“African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is almost 6 times that of whites.” NAACP | Criminal Justice Fact Sheet

In Conclusion, it would be great to see data scientists use analysis and machine learning to reduce the burden bail imposes on communities of color. But I caution data scientists to be mindful of the history that lead to the numbers available for analysis. If you are unfamiliar with the history of the U.S. prison system, I highly recommend that you watch Netflix’s 13th, a documentary about the history of the U.S. prison system which is very well researched and very engaging.

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