Wednesday, August 22, 2018

California legislature is on the verge of virtually eliminating money bail, an increasing problem in much of rural U.S.

Both houses of the California State Legislature have voted to "virtually eliminate the payment of money as a condition for release from jail," Jazmine Ulloa and Maya Lau report for the Los Angeles Times. Senate Bill 10 passed the Assembly 41-27 and returns to the Senate for approval of amendments, including one "that gave judges greater power to decide who should remain incarcerated ahead of trial."

The virtual end of money bail in the nation's largest state would be likely to spur similar efforts across the country, drive partly by overcrowding in jails, especially in rural areas.

Most inmates can't afford their bail bonds, raising questions about how bonds are set, the policies and lobbying of the commercial bail-bond industry, and the decisions of prosecutors and judges, which may be harsher on the accused in rural areas, Cherise Fanno Burdeen, CEO of the nonprofit Pretrial Justice Institute, said at a conference for journalists on rural jails last month.

Research shows that money bonds have no discernible impact in terms of improving outcomes and public safety, Burdeen said: “Money bonds only detain people who are too poor to post that bond, and they let bad guys who can afford to post bond get out without being assessed or having conditions that would improve public safety.”

Some inmates stay in jail because they can't afford even “incredibly small bail amounts,” said G. Larry Mays, Regents Professor Emeritus of Criminal Justice at New Mexico State University and author of Trouble in the Heartland: Challenges Confronting Rural Jails.

The California bill, much like one Indiana passed two years ago, would require counties to create pretrial services agencies that would use a risk-assessment tool analysis, "to evaluate people booked into jail to determine whether, and under what conditions, they should be released," the Times reports.

Because of the Assembly amendments giving judges more discretion, some "criminal justice reform groups have rescinded their support and are actively working to kill the legislation — landing on the same side as a bail industry that has worked to sink the bill from the beginning," the Times reports. "The American Civil Liberties Union became the latest major supporter to move its stance from neutral to opposed on Monday. Three of its executive directors said the new bill fell short of its intended goals and would compromise the right to fair court proceedings for criminal defendants."

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