Orange County Register

Cash bail doesn’t make California safer, it just crowds our jails

November 15, 2017

By The Editorial Board

How much money someone has shouldn’t be the final determinant of whether or not he or she remains behind bars or gets released from jail after being arrested.

Yet that’s all too often how California’s pretrial justice system works, with potentially tens of thousands of people on any given day deemed eligible for release but stuck in jail simply because they haven’t posted monetary bail and might not be able to.

According to Human Rights Watch, between 2011-2015, one-third of the nearly 1.5 million felony arrests made in California ended in either charges never being filed, charges being dismissed or acquittal, with such resolutions coming days, weeks or months after arrest.

This is a costly problem. As a recent report from the Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard University Law School noted, in addition to the high direct costs of incarceration, pretrial detention can have severe collateral consequences for defendants and their families.

People detained in jails for prolonged periods of time can be at risk of losing their jobs, their vehicles, their homes, their health care and even the custody of their children, regardless of whether or not they are ever found guilty of the crime for which they were arrested.

Key to a fix is moving to a risk-based system focusing more on a person’s flight risk and risk to the public, as a group convened by California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye recently suggested.

Jurisdictions across the country — including Washington, D.C. and Kentucky — have proven that pretrial justice systems that prioritize risk assessments and community-based supervision can safely reduce the detention of defendants without compromising rates of court appearances or public safety.

California should follow their lead. As Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, proposes through SB10, and as recommended by the chief justice’s group, California can establish a risk-based pretrial assessment system, investing in pretrial services in every county and ending the practice of detaining someone solely because of a small bank account.

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