As detailed in an earlier post, CA’s criminal bail system is so insidiously unfair that it’s better to be guilty and rich than innocent and poor. A person’s ability to get out of jail depends on the size of their bank account. In many ways, the current bail system mirrors the structural inequalities in society — the well off enjoy privileges in an elevated social class divorced from life in the middle and lower classes. The good news is that a robust reform movement is underway and quickly gaining steam.
Replacing wealth based decisions on pre-trial detention to an individual impact on public safety assessment tool is the gist of the bill making its way through the CA legislature. The commercial bail industry in CA, valued annually at roughly $2 billion, has already spent $170,000 on lobbying efforts to oppose changes to CA’s bail system.
Nationwide, the majority of people unable to meet money bail fall within the poorest third of society. Criminalizing poverty has extensive historical roots, but modernizing the pretrial system offers the possibility to address one of the major humanitarian injustices permeating CA’s criminal justice system. In CA, 63% of people caged in jails are legally innocent and awaiting trial. Governor Brown’s compliance to a Supreme Court population cap mandate shifted facility overcrowding from prisons to jails, but if the legislature can pass the Bail reform bill it will greatly alleviate jail overcrowding.