Next year, California voters will vote on whether or not bail bonds will exist anymore in California.
The ‘California Replace Cash Bail with Risk Assessments Referendum’ proposition will as voters if they approve of Senate Bill 10, which would replace cash bail with risk assessments. Under the system, those with minor misdemeanors will be released after being processed by law enforcement. But those with more critical felonies and previous jail time for serious crimes will stay in jail, as they would be considered a risk. This is where an algorithm, based on everything from the crime to the prisoner’s history, would be added up to see if they would be acceptable for release or if they still needed to be held.
After being passed in both the California Senate and Assembly across strict party lines, and then signed by former Governor Jerry Brown in 2018, the bill was almost immediately put up for a veto referendum. The American Bail Association’s PAC ‘Californians Against the Reckless Bail Scheme’ managed to raise $2.778 million dollars in a campaign to get signatures for the ballot, and in 2019, they had the required 365,880
With such a massive change to the criminal justice process and the instant death of an entire industry at stake, both those for and against bail bonds have already started their respective battles for the proposition to get attention in the already crowded 2020 election.
Senator Robert Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), author of SB 10, leads proponents of the proposition. Hertzberg and supporters such as human rights groups have called the bail system as being biased against poor people who can often not afford bail, as well as calling the bail industry “predatory.”
“Currently, we have a system that punishes people and takes away their liberty, simply because they have less money,” stated Senator Hertzberg earlier this year. “That’s not fair, and it’s not protecting public safety. The point of this bill is to treat people as people, and to consider their public safety risk and their flight risk on an individual basis.”
“The truth is today, under the cash bail system, if you can write a check, victims don’t matter,” continued Senator Hertzberg. “Everyone agrees the cash bail system is broken, because it is based on people’s bank accounts, not how dangerous they are. We need a system that prioritizes public safety and restores justice to the pretrial process, making sure everyone arrested is assessed on his or her risk and treated the same, regardless of background or income level.”
Meanwhile opponents, led by the bail industry, have been pushing for why the California justice system still needs cash bail. The ACLU and the NAACP have been notable opponents, looking into racial bias claims in the risk assessment. The cost is also passed onto taxpayers, rather than those paying bail. One recent assessment put the added costs at over $100 million a year.
“What SB 10 does is make everything we do now on the state,” said Los Angeles bail bondsman Benjamin Pataki. “We investigate. We get tracers. We get clients who don’t show. We need to keep large amounts of money at a given time. And that’s just us.”
“Look how much extra jails will be for those who would have otherwise paid bail. And those costs. There’s wasted court time. And now the state needs people who do most things we do too. That’s a substantial amount.”
“But, more than money, bail bondsmen allow people to go home and continue their lives. Under the SB 10 system, jobs are ruined. Families who rely on money coming from the jailed person are ruined. Often we are that single thing that keeps them between moving on and falling into destitution. Remember, no one is guilty until convicted, and these are innocent people we give time to get everything right for their families.”
“Without us, a lot more people would either be in jails or out on the street.”
Both opponents and proponents are expected to mount statewide campaigns primarily focused in areas with the most bail bondsmen.
Despite an initial October 2019 start date in the approved bill, SB 10 has been put in hiatus with no law changes. And its success or failure completely rides on next years vote.