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California Bail Reform Legislation Gains Momentum

Committees approve bills that help prevent people from being jailed simply because they can’t afford bail; bills now head to floor votes

(From Press Release)—As momentum for bail reform in California and across the country grows, the California Senate and Assembly Appropriations Committees approved The California Money Bail Reform Act to overhaul California’s money bail system. The legislation now advances to the Senate and Assembly floors for a full vote next week.

The California Money Bail Reform Act, comprised of two identical bills (SB 10 and AB 42), was introduced by Senator Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) and Assemblymember Bonta (D-Oakland). If approved, the measures will help ensure people aren’t held pretrial simply because they cannot afford bail and prioritize services to help people make their court appearances and curb the state’s over reliance on money bail and incarceration.

“Our communities are safer and healthier when they are whole. California’s discriminatory money bail system tears them apart,” Jennifer Kim, Director of Programs with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “Bail reform is a step towards a more just system that works for everyone, not just the one percent and the for-profit bail industry.”

Originally intended to provide an incentive for people to return to court for their hearings, money bail has resulted in the detention of thousands of low-income people who have not been convicted because they cannot afford to post bail. Many people remain in jail for weeks, months, and sometimes years while their cases move forward — or plead guilty to a crime they may not have committed in order to avoid the terrible experiences of incarceration . The impact can be devastating for them and their families; just a few days in jail can cost someone their car, job, housing, or even child custody. Time spent in jail can also have negative mental health consequences. Meanwhile, wealthy defendants are able to post bail and buy their freedom with ease.

“Money bail has essentially created a two-tiered system of justice in California: one for the wealthy and one for everyone else,” said John Bauters, Director of Government Relations with Californians for Safety and Justice. “By relying on wealth rather than risk to public safety to determine who is freed pretrial, money bail undermines the safety of our communities  and the integrity of the justice system.”

Because Black and Latino people are more likely to be jailed than white people while their cases move forward, money bail systems fuel already egregious racial disparities in the justice system. Research shows that Black people and Latinos are assigned 35 percent and 19 percent higher bail amounts, respectively, than white people accused of similar offenses.

“When my brother was arrested, my mom had to put up our house for his bail. Now it’s like we owe them everything, otherwise we lose the house. We are forever in debt to the bail bondsman because of it. My mom has to work harder to keep up on the bills and stay out of debt, because they have so much control over our lives now,” said Le’Char, a Suisun City resident and member of Essie Justice Group.

Together, SB 10 and AB 42 build upon common-sense solutions adopted in other localities that have significantly reduced their use of commercial bail, such as Kentucky, New Jersey and Santa Clara, California. Kentucky, for example, releases about 70 percent of people awaiting the resolution of their cases; 90 percent of them make all their future court appearances and 92 percent stay arrest-free while they wait for their cases to go forward. In contrast, in California under our current system, the rate at which people return to court after release is lower than in the rest of the country.

The California Money Bail Reform Act is sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union of California, the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Californians for Safety and Justice, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Essie Justice Group, the California Public Defenders Association, Silicon Valley De-Bug, SEIU California, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

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