California Abolished Cash Bail But Created a New System of Inequality

A sign advertises a bail bond company on August 29, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
A sign advertises a bail bond company on August 29, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo: Mario Tama (Getty Images)

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.

News Editor for The Root. I said what I said. Period.



Cali also garnishes wages post sentence for your room and board -I had a coworker who made pretty good money but was ‘renting a room’ broke and it was messing up her visitations with her kid. (No place for kid to stay over, really.) The state was taking it’s cut automatically. Since her arrest was non-violent and drug related and she was working 50 hrs a week, doing meetings and missing her kid, that seemed very fucked up to me. They were sort of stacking the deck against her. She made good, but wow.

They’ve also got a house arrest “scam” NPR did a radio show on. Basically thry give teens or non violent offenders house arrest (jails are super full) and charge them for the anklette and maintinence. It can apparently get quite pricey and there was cause to believe (per the show) that given some of the crimes, ages of perpetrator, previous history, flight risk; that some of these people didn’t need extensive ankle bracelets.  There was a little more to it than that, but I don't have a link for the show, atm.