Criminal justice advocates seeking bail system reform

By Forrest Lee Jones

Criminal justice advocates are seeking to reform the California bail system reports online journalist Steven Greenhaut.

Opponents say the system forces poor people to plea bargain their cases to avoid spending months in jail and a slow judicial process but allows wealthy defendants to be free pending trial.

Greenhaut reported last November on reason.com that bills will be introduced in the next California Legislature session to reform the bail system.

The stated purpose of bail is to ensure the appearance of a defendant in court.

Proponents of the system say the system works well. “When it comes to guaranteeing appearance at court, surety bail outperforms every form of public sector pretrial release and own recognizance release as well,” according to the American Bail Coalition.

Opponents points out some of the problems. “Over time the discussion about bail [has become]: Does it really serve its purpose of keeping people safe? Because if you’re wealthy and you commit a heinous crime, you can make bail,” California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said in a March 2016 editorial board meeting with the Sacramento Bee.

Their lives becomes disenfranchised if they are incarcerated and not working, resulting in losing their possessions and housing. Moreover, they lose custody of their children to Child Protective Services. This is a problem for 60 percent of people incarcerated in California jails, who have not yet been sentenced, said the report.

A study done by nonpartisan Public Policy Institute shows: “From 2000 to 2009…The median bail amount in California ($50,000) is more than five times the median amount in the rest of the nation (less than $10,000).”

The U.S. Justice Department found in Georgia that bail practices “incarcerate indigent individuals before trial solely because of their inability to pay for their release.” That violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the department reported.

Greenhaut was the Union-Tribune’s California columnist. He is western region director for the R Street Institute and is based in Sacramento.

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