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Key Changes Allow Bail Reform Legislation to Pass Assembly Public Safety Committee

Sponsor pledges to make additional changes to address concerns about public safety, judicial discretion and cost as the bill moves forward

(From Press Release) – The Assembly Public Safety Committee today passed legislation by Senator 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.

The committee approved SB 10 on a 4-2 vote, and it goes next to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for consideration. The bill, which has already cleared the Senate, is jointly authored by Hertzberg and Assemblymember Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, who are working with a broad coalition.

“The truth is today, under the cash bail system, if you can write a check, victims don’t matter,” sponsor Senator Bob Hertzberg said. “Everyone agrees the cash bail system is broken, because it is based on people’s bank accounts, not how dangerous they are. We need a system that prioritizes public safety and restores justice to the pretrial process, making sure everyone arrested is assessed on his or her risk and treated the same, regardless of background or income level.”

“The present bail system punishes the poor for being poor,” Assemblymember Bonta said. “We need to fix the basic injustice of our bail system and we need to do it now.”

“The current money bail system is broken. Even the opponents agree with that. We have an opportunity to make profound reforms to ensure that people who are arrested will be evaluated on the size of their risk and not on the size of their wallets,” he added in a post on Instagram.

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.

Santa Clara County implemented its own version of bail reform in 2012, adopting a risk assessment method aimed at reducing the pretrial jail population. It costs the county $215 a day to incarcerate a person but only $10 a day to monitor a person in the community. Moving to this new approach in 2013, the county saved more than $60 million by safely supervising many defendants in the community that under the old system would have been held in jail.

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 apartments and their cars, which are towed if left on the street, even before a court decides on their innocence or guilt.

According to a 2015 report on jail capacity and pretrial inmates by the California Public Policy Institute, California uses pretrial detention more than the rest of the nation but has higher rates for people failing to appear for court dates and being rearrested for non-violent felonies. The report said that “as critics of the bail system have long argued, releasing defendants based on their ability to post bail is both inequitable and unnecessarily risky.”

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.

On July 5, the bill was amended to address some concerns raised by prosecutors and judges. The new changes include clarifying that criminal history will continue to be a consideration in risk assessment tools, reducing costs by permitting judges to require pretrial defendants to pay for pretrial services or conditions if they can afford to and ensuring that victims of serious felonies are provided with notice prior to the release of the defendant, in accordance with Marsy’s Law.

At Tuesday’s hearing hearing, Senator Hertzberg said he will continue to work with prosecutors, judges and law enforcement to fine tune the bill and address any confusion, or concerns, about public safety, judicial discretion and cost.

“We have the opportunity to get this right and get this done this year,” Senator Hertzberg said. “We owe it to the people of California.”

SB 10 is co-sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union of California, 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.

The legislation has been endorsed by more than 100 different organizations and the Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Chronicle and Mercury News. Hertzberg and Bonta explained their proposal in an op-ed published in May in the Los Angeles Daily News.

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