California on the verge of reforming bail system

California is on the verge of reforming the bail system after lawmakers passed a bill that would eliminate money bail and replace it with a system that gives judges the power to decide who should stay incarcerated before trial.

Senate Bill 10 passed the Assembly and Senate this week and the bill now sits on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. The bill was co-authored by Bay Area Assemblyman Rob Bonta who made his arguments in Sacramento.

“What this bill does is it releases people who can be appropriately released,” Bonta said speaking in Sacramento. “It has appropriate detentions.”

The bill would eliminate the current bail system and replace it with a system based on “preventative detention.” It means each county would come up with its own risk assessment of defendants as a way to reform a system that discriminated against the poor.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi was a strong supporter of the initial bail reform bill, but said this version is an abomination. He said under the new bill, judges would have more power to determine who should stay locked up, even on misdemeanor, until that person’s trial is over.

“It gives them the power to lock someone up without even setting a bail,” Adachi said. “We think this new law will result in more people being in jail rather than less. Bail reform was about decreasing the number of people in jail pending a trial.”

At least 50 civil rights groups, including the ACLU, who supported the initial bill, oppose the current one on Brown’s desk. Gina Clayton-Johnson, Founder & Executive Director of Essie Justice Group, said SB 10 has gone from a promising vision for pretrial justice to a mass incarceration policy. She called it a flagrant violation of due process and other constitutional protections.

“If this bill passes, we will see nearly all Californians who are arrested being incarcerated prior to trial for at least 11 days as they wait for a hearing,” Clayton-Johnson said. “Today those people could bail out. Under SB10 they can't. This flies in the face of what real bail reform is supposed to accomplish.”

Bail bonds companies oppose the bill too, though they have strongly been against reform from the start. Jeff Clayton, Executive Director of the American Bail Coalition, said he estimates roughly 10,000 to 15,000 jobs could be lost if the bill is signed into law and takes effect in 2019.

“I think it’s an insult to all the good people in this industry that work hard to help people and without us, I think what we’re going to see, is a bunch more people are going to sit in jail,” Clayton said.

Critics said the bill was rushed through the legislature and loses sight of equalizing the system between the rich and the poor.

“I think all groups on both sides of the isle, would say this is a flawed piece of legislation and it needs to go back to the drawing board,” Clayton added.

Bonta addressed critics in his closing arguments to legislators in Sacramento.

“You can nitpick at this bill all you want,” Bonta said. “The perfect should not be the enemy of the good. This is good. This is a good bill.”