California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Tuesday that will make his state the first in the nation to abolish cash bail for suspects awaiting trial. But what looks like a victory for criminal justice reform on the outside is actually an opening for a new system of inequality.
As the Washington Post reports, when Brown signed the bill, he said the California Money Bail Reform Act would ensure that “rich and poor alike are treated fairly.”
The state’s current bail system allows judges to assess cash bail for a defendant’s pretrial release at a set amount based on a “bail schedule” that varies from county to county. The new law, which goes into effect in October 2019, would do away with the cash system.
Instead, judges would rely on a pretrial assessment process that factors in previous offenses and flight risk in determining whether a defendant should be released or held in “preventive detention.”
According to NPR, most misdemeanor nonviolent offenders would be released within 12 hours. The scoring system would look at other offenders and base a decision on their likelihood to show up for their court date, the likelihood of recidivism, and the seriousness of their crime.
However, there are too many ways for this “bail reform” to lead to further systemic oppression for people of color. It still leaves room for people who have not been convicted of any crime and are not guilty of any crime to be held in jail anyway. It leaves too much up to a judge’s determination.
And that is the same argument made by the ACLU of California, which pulled its support of the bill for that very reason.
The ACLU’s Natasha Minsker told NPR: “We are concerned that the system that’s being put into place by this bill is too heavily weighted toward detention and does not have sufficient safeguards to ensure that racial justice is provided in the new system.”
Yes, we want cash bail abolished, but we also need reform of the pretrial detention system as a whole. Removing the cash option and leaving it to a judge’s interpretation of what an “algorithm” spits out about a defendant seems as if we are jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.