Bail Reform Legislation Passes Public Safety Committee
The California Money Bail Reform Act of 2017 aims to eliminate the economic disparity and injustice in the pretrial process
SACRAMENTO – The Senate Public Safety Committee today passed legislation by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, to reform California’s cash bail system and replace a pretrial process that often forces people of modest means to remain in jail until a court can determine their innocence or guilt but allows the wealthy to go free.
SB 10, entitled The California Money Bail Reform Act of 2017, is jointly authored by Hertzberg and Assemblymember Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, who are working with a broad coalition to craft the measure. The two are also co-authors of AB 42, an identical bill making its way through the Assembly.
SB 10 cleared the committee on a 5-1 vote and goes next to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration.
“This bill is part of a national movement, a recognition that the way we have been handling pretrial processes in California and across the country is not fair or just,” Hertzberg said. “Whether you can go free before a trial is determined by the size of your wallet and not the size of your public safety risk, and that’s not the way it should be.”
“This bill seeks to fix and transform a broken money bail system that punishes people for being poor,” Bonta said. “This is win-win-win. It provides more justice to people who are arrested, it enhances public safety by giving judges new risk assessment tools to utilize and it is smarter spending that avoids wasting money unnecessarily on incarcerating people. ”
According to the most recent data available, 63 percent of the inmates in county jails are awaiting trial or sentencing. That’s roughly 46,000 Californians on any given day. While some defendants are considered too dangerous to release or a flight risk and should be held in custody for those reasons, many are not a threat to public safety and could be released, monitored and reminded when to return for court hearings.
The average daily cost to counties to hold inmates awaiting trial runs over $100 per inmate, according to the Board of State and Community Corrections. In Los Angeles County, the cost is $116. The cost of supervising a defendant in the community is about 10 percent the cost of keeping him or her in jail, according to the Pretrial Justice Institute.
Jurisdictions across the country have begun implementing reforms and experimenting with alternatives to cash bail. Most notably, for more than two decades, Washington, D.C., has run a pretrial services program that only detains defendants considered too dangerous to release into the community while others are sent home, monitored and given reminders on when to return for court hearings.
The median bail in California is $50,000, and 10 percent – what would be needed to pay a bail agent for release – is $5,000, an amount beyond the reach of most Californians. In fact, according to a 2016 report by the U.S. Federal Reserve, 46 percent of Americans don’t have $400 to pay for an emergency expense and would have to sell something or borrow money to cover the cost.
Even bail for the most minor offenses can run over $1,000. And for people who can’t pay, their lives are turned upside down, waiting in jail for weeks or months before their case goes to court. The result is devastating for the individuals, who can end up losing their jobs, their homes and almost anything of value, and creates great turmoil and difficulty for their families.
At Tuesday’s hearing, small business owner Melodie Henderson of Spring Valley testified about the damage done by being arrested on a single charge and held in jail with bail set at $50,000. In order to come up with the $5,000 to pay a bail bondsman, she had to borrow money from her grandparents and run up her credit cards and theirs. She also had to drop out of college.
Even after doing 10 months of community service and fulfilling the terms of her probation, she remained in a financial hole that took a decade to climb out of. She eventually was able to finish college and start a business but still struggles to get credit because of the financial problems created by her bail debt.
“Bail took 10 years out of my life,” Henderson told the committee.
SB 10 would safely reduce the number of people being held in jail awaiting trial and ensure that those who are not a threat to public safety or at risk of fleeing are not held simply for their inability to afford bail.
The bill would require, except when a person is arrested for specified violent felonies, that a pretrial services agency conduct a risk assessment and prepare a report that makes recommendations on conditions of release for the person pretrial.
If the court determines that pretrial release, with or without nonfinancial conditions, will not reasonably assure the appearance of the person in court as required, the bill would require the court to set monetary bail at the least restrictive level necessary to assure the appearance of the defendant in court.
If the court has set monetary bail, SB 10 would authorize the person to execute an unsecured bond, execute a secured bond, or deposit a percentage of the sum mentioned in the order setting monetary bail.
The court may detain a person under certain conditions, and the bill allows a prosecuting attorney to file a motion seeking the pretrial detention of a person in certain circumstances, including when the person has been charged with violent crimes or sexual assaults.
The bill also creates standards for training and for cost-effective and validated assessment tools.
The legislation is co-sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union, Anti-Recidivism Coalition, California Public Defenders Association, Californians for Safety and Justice, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Essie Justice Group, SEIU California, Silicon Valley De-Bug and Western Center on Law and Poverty.
SB 10 is part of Hertzberg’s ongoing efforts to restore justice to California’s criminal justice system and roll back unfair and overly harsh penalties and fines that hit the poor and the working poor especially hard.
In 2015, Hertzberg authored SB 405, which, along with Gov. Jerry Brown’s related budget proposal, established a new traffic amnesty program for fees and fines incurred prior to 2013. The program allowed people to talk to a judge if they wanted to before paying fines, restored driver’s licenses to those with a payment plan and reduced exorbitant fee debts by taking a person’s income into account in setting the fine amount.
In the first 15 months of that program, more than 205,000 Californians have received amnesty fine and fee reductions and more than 192,000 have had their suspended driver’s licenses reinstated, according to the California Judicial Council. Monday was the last day to apply for amnesty through the program.
Hertzberg went on in 2016 to author SB 881, which requires courts to respond to traffic amnesty claims within 90 days of the claims being filed, and SB 882, which prohibits youths from being charged with a criminal violation for transit fare evasion and instead treats the offense through an administrative process.
Bob Hertzberg, chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water, represents nearly 1 million San Fernando Valley residents of Senate District 18, which includes part of Burbank and the following communities in Los Angeles: Arleta, Granada Hills, Hansen Dam, Lake View Terrace, Mission Hills, North Hills, North Hollywood, part of Northridge, Pacoima, Panorama City, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, part of Sun Valley, Sylmar, Toluca Lake, Valley Glen, Valley Village, Van Nuys, the City of San Fernando and Universal City. See a district map at http://sd18.senate.ca.gov/district. After serving in the Assembly from 1996-2002, including two years as Speaker, Hertzberg invested in solar, wind and electric-car projects; and worked for structural changes in government through the Think Long Committee of California. Learn more at www.senate.ca.gov/hertzberg.
MEDIA CONTACT: Andrew LaMar
Senator Robert M. Hertzberg
Capitol Building, Room 4038
Sacramento, CA 95814