Bonta Legislation Will Reform Money Bail

Monday, December 5, 2016

Bill Would Move Away From System That Discriminates Against the Poor

(Sacramento, CA) – Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D- Oakland) is introducing The California Money Bail Reform Act of 2017 to fundamentally reform California’s money bail system with the main goal of increasing its effectiveness and eliminating its discrimination against poor Californians.

The legislation will be introduced shortly after the 2017-18 state legislative session is called to order at noon. Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) and Bonta are introducing identical bills and working together with a broad coalition to craft the reform.

Bail is intended to protect the public and ensure a defendant shows up for court hearings but the current system is ineffective and unjust.

Bonta Bail Reform AB 42

“California’s bail system punishes poor people simply for being poor,” said Bonta. “In many cases, if you have enough money to pay your bail, you can get out of jail regardless of whether you are a danger to the public or a flight risk.  But if you’re poor and are not a flight risk or a danger to the public, you are forced to stay in jail even when the charge is a misdemeanor. That’s not justice.”

National research shows money bail does not reduce the rate of failures to appear in court any more effectively than less costly and less discriminatory methods. (Justice Policy Institute, 2012)

“We all understand that dangerous people and those likely to re-offend or flee need to remain in custody,” Bonta said. “But there is no justice in a system that fails to achieve those goals while disproportionately hurting poor communities and people of color.”

With the median bail amount in California at $50,000, it’s well out of reach for most people to pay in full or even to come up with the typical 10% fee charged by for-profit bail bond companies. And these fees are non-refundable, so bail bond companies never have to return Californians’ money even if the person shows up to all of their court appearances or if the charges get dismissed.

As of December 2015, a California state report showed 63% of county jail inmates were unsentenced. (California Board of State and Community Corrections Jail Survey)

“California relies on pretrial detention to a far greater degree than most other states,” said Bonta. “This is clearly a misguided use of public resources.”

Research by the Santa Clara University School of Law (SCU) shows the average amount paid to a bail bond agency was $1,500 (more than most defendants’ monthly housing costs.) The findings also show persons charged with misdemeanors on average spent more than 30 days in jail before they were tried and either convicted or found to be not guilty.

“We need evidence-based reforms that accurately assess someone’s risk to the public and their likelihood of showing up for their court hearings.  Right now, money bail is just an indicator of a person’s wealth,” Bonta said.

In 2016, Santa Clara County implemented reforms giving judges greater involvement in assessing a defendant’s ability to be released without bail. Other jurisdictions, including Washington D.C., have taken steps to reform money bail and have created systems that treat the rich and poor equally while maintaining public safety and low failure to appear rates.

When someone sits in jail unable to pay their bail, they are more likely to accept a plea deal just to get out of jail and return to their lives and families, regardless of whether they are actually guilty.

In cases where charges are ultimately dropped, money bail and pre-trial detention can have a crushing impact.  If you’re held in jail, you could lose your job and the means to keep your life and family stabilized.

In addition to the impact on families, taxpayers carry a tremendous burden under the current system. The average cost to incarcerate a person who has not been convicted of a crime is $100 per day. In total, Californians spend an estimated $4.5 million per day to lock up non-violent and non-convicted people awaiting trial.  That’s money that could be better used in ways that enhance public safety.

In U.S. v Salerno (1987), Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote, “In our society, liberty is the norm, and detention prior to trial or without trial is the carefully limited exception.”

 “California must do better,” said Bonta. “We will reform money bail to protect both the public’s safety and people’s rights from a system that unfairly favors the wealthy.”

Joint Authors of this legislation include: Assemblymembers Richard Bloom, David Chiu, Bill Quirk, and Mark Stone.

Sponsors of this legislation include Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, the American Civil Liberties Union, Californians for Safety and Justice, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, California Public Defenders Association, Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Essie Justice Group  and Silicon Valley De-Bug.

At this time, the legislation contains initial framework and findings to demonstrate the urgent need for reforming California’s money bail system.  Additional details will be included prior to being heard in policy committee this Spring.

Assemblymember Rob Bonta represents the 18th Assembly District, which includes Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro and is Chair of the Assembly Committee on Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security.