A nationwide movement that began 53 years ago to reform the pretrial incarceration and money bail process has finally reached the legislative committees and political bargaining tables in Washington and Sacramento. Reform advocates – including legislators, prosecutors, attorneys, judges and grassroots organizations – contend that the use of a money bail system for pretrial release is unfair to the poor and unsafe for the public.
In 1964, then-U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy told the Senate: “Every year in this country, thousands of persons are kept in jail for weeks and even months following arrest. They are not yet proven guilty. They may be no more likely to flee than you or I. But nonetheless, most of them must stay in jail because to be blunt, they cannot afford to pay for their freedom.”
Kennedy’s efforts helped pass the Criminal Justice Act of 1964 and the Bail Reform Act of 1966, which created a presumption of release before trial for most federal defendants, and mostly did away with the money bail system in federal proceedings. But not for local and state jurisdictions, which account for most of the country’s jail population and in which the money-bail system still controls the release of defendants, dangerous or not. Only two countries, the U.S. and the Philippines, currently use the money bail system, according to California legislators.
Four months ago California State Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) and Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) introduced the California Money Bail Reform Act of 2017 — identical pieces of legislation (Senate Bill 10 and Assembly Bill 42) that would phase out excessive money bail systems statewide for most misdemeanors and some nonviolent felonies. And this past March, Los Angeles-area Congressman Ted Lieu introduced the No Money Bail Act of 2017 in Washington.
“The current cash bail system is the modern equivalent of a debtor’s prison — it criminalizes poverty, pure and simple,” Senator Hertzberg