Overcrowding in county jails has California reviewing its bail practices.
California’s bail practices have clogged the jails and become a tool that preemptively punishes the poor. Many individuals who pose no threat to society are jailed while awaiting trial.
Realignment shifted many state prisoners to county jails.
“64% of California’s jail population is awaiting trial or sentencing as of December 2016.” Most remain in pretrial custody because they cannot afford bail. Jail Profile Survey, http://www.bscc.ca.gov/
Like a flood moving downstream, this prison to county jail overcrowding has become an urgent issue according to the editorial board of The Sacramento Bee.
Does bail “…really serve its purpose of keeping people safe? Because if you’re wealthy and you commit a heinous crime, you can make bail,” said the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, Tani Cantil-Sakauye to the editorial board.
The next phase of criminal justice reform may be the courts. California’s court system promises a fair and speedy trail but only seems to offer a choice between jail or accepting a plea deal for the poor awaiting trial. The median bail for California is $50,000 – about five times that of most other states.
What was once a tool to compel the accused to appear in court has become a trap ensnaring only the poor. “We have to take a look at whether we are contributing to the problem,” Cantil-Sakauye said.
Sixty-two percent of the people in county jails are awaiting trial, estimates The Public Policy Institute of California. This stunning statistic had gone unnoticed until jail capacity became stretched by the influx of prisoners resulting from realignment. Further, realignment has lifted the one-year cap on jail terms so that beleaguered county jails now have some inmates serving sentences of five or more years.
Inspired by Arizona’s and Kentucky’s reform of their pretrial court systems so that bail is rarely used, California is participating in a multistate taskforce to identify alternatives to bail or jail. Sponsored by the Conference of Chief Justices, this taskforce seeks to develop best practices for supervised release programs as an alternative to bail. The recommended reforms may be implemented in numerous states, including California.
While a powerful California bail bond industry challenges the dismantling of the bail system, the federal government may require California to implement alternatives to bail such as those being considered by the taskforce. The U.S. Department of Justice warned in March that “any bail practices that result in incarceration based on poverty violate the 14th Amendment” in response to numerous suits challenging bail practices.
The editorial board of The Sacramento Bee contends that in the current environment of criminal justice reform, the indignity of being poor should not include a bleak choice between pre-trial jail, accepting a one-sided plea deal or being buried under bail debt.