LOS ANGELES - Proposition 25 would make California the first state to end the cash bail system, replacing it with an algorithm, and it is on the ballot for the November election.
If the measure is passed, it would uphold Senate Bill 10, passed by California lawmakers in 2018 that aimed to end cash bail and replace it with a computer algorithm that would assess a person's risk to determine if they should be released while awaiting trial. In 2018, former Governor, Jerry Brown, signed the law, but opposition led by the bail bonds industry gathered enough signatures to challenge the law and put a referendum on the ballot.
Supporters include the Service Employees International Union, California Democratic Party, California Medical Association, Governor Gavin Newsom, and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. The opposition includes the California State Conference of the NAACP, California Peace Officers' Association, California Bail Agents Association, and Human Rights Watch.
Sam Lewis, the Executive Director of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, spoke to FOX 11 about why he is supporting Proposition 25.
"I have an understanding of how it will and can work. Right now we currently have no oversight on what judges do, how they follow the bail schedule or not and their discretion in this is absolute right now as we speak. If I'm poor and can't afford bail, that doesn't matter to a judge. They can either give me bail or not. If I'm arrested for a non-violent, low level offense, I still have to wait to see a judge and my bail may still be $50,000 or $10,000, whatever the judge determines it will be. If I can't afford that bail, I sit in the county jail until I go to court, and the county jail is probably one of the worst places a person could be in," said Lewis.
Former California Assemblyman, Mike Gatto, spoke to FOX 11 about why he is a part of the opposition to Proposition 25.
"You have groups like the NAACP and Human Rights Watch joining forces with Sheriffs. You have retired judges. You have prosecutors and defense attorneys [opposing Proposition 25]. It's a really diverse group of people who are saying 'whoa, wait a minute. We don't think Prop 25 is good for California. We think it's going to result in people who should never be held in jail being held for way too long and we think it could result in people who should never get out of jail being let free way too soon,'" said Gatto.
Supporters of Prop 25 say the current cash bail system is inherently racist and classist, keeping poor people and minorities in jail because they cannot afford to pay bail like the wealthy can.
"We need to stand behind our elected officials who have stepped up to end a predatory bail system that literally preys on poor people that are predominately Black and Brown. What we do know is that our county jails are full of poor Black and Brown people. We know that as a fact. It [Proposition 25] ends criminalizing poverty right now," said Lewis.
However, there are two sides to the opposition. The bail industry and some progressive groups and civil rights organizations are against the Proposition, saying it doesn't go "far enough" and is not the solution to the problem. Some advocates argue an algorithm could worsen discrimination and keep people of color in jail at disproportionate rates.
"My concern with an algorithm making decisions is first of all, an algorithm might be OK when you're trying to determine what movie you might want to see next on Netflix or Amazon, but when you're talking about someone's freedom being set by a computer algorithm, that's where I have a real problem. If you think about it, what are some of the things people are talking about going into these computer algorithms? You're talking about things like credit score, your employment history, how long you've lived at your apartment, I mean people who often get in trouble with the justice system are people who don't have a stable work history, people who might not have a high credit score. I don't see how these algorithms will be any better than the current system. My concern is if Prop 25 passes, we'll be right back here in five years trying to reform the reforms," said Gatto.
Lewis offered a counter argument as someone who was incarcerated in his past.
"Historically people that have been incarcerated, people that have felt the system crush and grind them down have never been in the position to be able to have a voice in decision making. That has changed in the past ten years. The organizations that are now leading the charge to support Prop 25, "Yes on 25" are led by formerly incarcerated African Americans. The organizations that are saying that it doesn't go far enough, no other state has completely ended cash bail, they've reformed it. We want to throw out the entire system. If there are racial biases [with the algorithms] as these Civil Rights organizations are saying, we have two levels of oversight to be able to see that and adjust it, two levels of oversight that will be public information. My question to them is why would you want to keep a system that not only makes hundreds of millions off of poor Black and Brown people and use that money for campaigns that are contrary to criminal justice reform?" said Lewis.
Lewis said Proposition 25 would create additional oversight.
"Every year it will be required that a report is sent to the State Legislature which will be public information for you and I to look up and see, we'll be able to determine if there are biases," said Lewis.
Gatto said there is oversight with the current system.
"At least in the current system, you can hold a judge accountable. You can hold a prosecutor accountable. It's a lot harder to hold a computer algorithm accountable. When the pro side says 'just trust us, let us put in place this algorithm system in 58 different counties,' my response is simply we are talking about people's lives here. You've got to get this just right. Prop 25 isn't it. The people should demand and they are demanding that the Legislature go back to the drawing board and give us something better," said Gatto.
The financial cost is another point of contention. Supporters say Proposition 25 would lead to decreased county jail costs, but the opposition argues taxpayers will be paying millions of dollars to create a new algorithm system in every county.
"Sacramento politicians tend to do something very well which is when they pass legislation, they pass the costs on to local governments. This legislation essentially says all of the 58 counties in the State of California have to hire a computer firm to create an algorithm in their counties. We've all seen the debacles that happen when the DMV tried to revamp their computer systems. It was many millions of dollars over budget and it took many years. What is the cost to the victim? What is the cost to the person who suffered because that algorithm made a mistake?" asked Gatto.
"I pay taxes. I'm willing to pay those extra taxes to make sure that poor people that can barely scrape together 500 dollars to pay an emergency bill won't be stuck in jail and lose their houses, lose their families to foster care because they're in jail," said Lewis.
The 2018 bill, SB 10, made money bail illegal in California.
If Proposition 25 is passed, people who are arrested for misdemeanors would generally be let go before trial, and those accused of violent felonies will be kept in jail. The people accused of lower-level felonies could be kept in jail or have conditions put on their release such as a weekly probation check-in. A risk assessment tool would be used by a Judge to determine a person's likelihood of missing the next court date or committing another crime, based on factors like their background and criminal history.
Each county [58 counties in California] would have to adopt their own risk assessment tool.
Click here for more information on Proposition 25.