Brown first launched his bail reform efforts back in 1979, during his first stint as the Golden State’s governor.
A recent study of the state’s jail system revealed that over 48,000 inmates, or roughly two-thirds of the county jail population, were not yet convicted of a crime—and “most of them” were behind bars because they couldn’t afford bail. Being stuck in jail without a conviction can have lasting consequences, especially for the innocent.
The Los Angeles Times recently published an interactive “game” that simulated a journey through the legal system after being arrested by a dirty cop on false charges. No matter what the outcome of the Choose Your Own Adventure-like journey—even when a player did everything right, and “won”—the player’s life was irrevocably damaged. The Times game made every player unable to post bail, so no matter how successful the fight for one’s life went (or how long it took), the wrongful charges still caused widespread destruction. Even winning the battle against the bad cop resulted in weeks in jail, and losing one’s job.
That’s just one (fictional) example of how the cash bail system can destroy the lives of the innocent and not-yet-convicted, but it hits home. Meanwhile, the tragic story of Kalief Browder, who spent over 1,000 days in Rikers Island without a conviction, is an example of how our cash bail system can lead to death.
The cash bail system, of course, has its supporters. Opponents of SB10 include the obvious players, like law enforcement organizations, and, of course, bail bond companies, which profit most off of the cash bail system.
One person who doesn’t have mixed feelings on the matter is Steve Payton, owner of Bill Davidson Bail Bonds. The end of cash bail effectively puts California’s entire bail bonds system out of business. Payton, 62, said he has worked at the company for six years and bought it from the previous owner at the beginning of this year. This new legislation spells his financial ruin, he said.
“If he signed it, I hope he drops dead,” Payton said, after being informed by the Outpost of the governor’s action. “He just put me and my family in the poorhouse. I’m going to lose my house, and I’m going to move out of this godforsaken, liberal-ass state.”
Aww, Steve. We see you.
With millions of dollars (and 7,000 jobs) at stake, the bail bond industry, predictably, has already vowed to push back.
David Quintana, a lobbyist for the California Bail Agents Association, said the industry is already mobilizing to block the new law from taking effect, though he declined to discuss the specifics.
“You don’t eliminate an industry and expect those people to go down quietly,” he said. “Every single weapon in our arsenal will be fired.”
While cops and bail profiteers may be the usual suspects one would expect to fight this law, they’re joined by some strange bedfellows. Despite being early supporters—and even sponsors—of the bill, groups like the ACLU have come out against the revisions to SB10, wisely pointing out that the new legislation puts a lot of discretionary power into the hands of judges, who now get to decide whether or not a suspect is detained.
People who are deemed low- and medium-risk will mostly be released on their own recognizance or under supervision conditions. This would generally include people charged with low-level offenses or nonviolent felonies.
High-risk people, however, won’t get the same opportunity. Instead, they will remain detained until a hearing before a judge, who will decide whether to continue detaining the person based on several factors, such as the offender’s criminal history, whether the offense is violent and whether the person has repeatedly failed to appear in the past.
This is the part some supporters of an overhaul fear has led the new law astray: How will judges decide who poses a “high risk?” The concern among critics is that too many people may end up unfairly classified as “high-risk” and detained based on subjective criteria and, crucially, that too many racial minorities will be classified this way.
It’s a valid concern. The new system relies heavily on judicial discretion, thus leaving a lot of room for human error, which is often just a nice way of sugarcoating racism.
California is the first state to fully abolish cash bail, but other states, including New Jersey, have implemented laws that reduce the use of money bail, while Washington, D.C., has created a cashless bail system.