Gov. Brown signs law abolishing cash bail system

FILE PHOTO: A Los Angeles County jail. Photo courtesy of LASD.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that made California the first state to abolish its cash bail system, putting a stronger burden on probation agencies to keep track of criminal court appearances and putting local bail bond agencies like SCV Bail Bonds out of business.

In a statement, Brown declared the new law, when it goes into effect October 2019, would ensure that the poor and rich would be treated equally when accused of crimes.

Under new restrictions, criminals would not be favored based on their ability to pay bail, he said in an issued statement.

Instead, the state would replace bail with “risk assessments” of individuals and nonmonetary conditions of release. Counties would establish local agencies to evaluate any individual arrested on felony charges on their likelihood of returning for court hearings and their chances of re-arrest. Those with high risk would be under stricter supervision of the courts, while those who seemed to pose a lower risk had less restrictions.

In some nonviolent misdemeanor cases, defendants could be released within 12 hours. In other cases, they could be scored on how likely they are to show up for their court date, or released with conditional monitoring by GPS or regular check-ins with an officer.

Kerri Webb, spokeswoman for Los Angeles County Probation, said the passage of the newly signed SB 10 would lead to a dramatic increase in the number of defendants requiring a pretrial risk assessment and pretrial supervision services.

According to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, the law could cost anywhere from $100 million to $200 million annually.

“The law states, in part, that courts will be required to create pretrial services units to conduct assessments or develop contracts with local public entities,” Webb said. “So we will work closely with the courts and our county partners in fulfilling the obligations required by this legislation.”

Local bail bonds agency operators Robin Sandoval-March and Nuri March said the bill would  rob the system of the accountability clients have to show up to court, enforced by bondsmen they’ve paid.

Cash bonds also don’t operate in the ways people think, she said.

“We go beyond the stereotype in Hollywood,” she said. “Most of the clients that we bail out have options for payment plans, so it’s not based on who’s rich and who’s not. The people who are stuck in jail aren’t poor, but have burned their bridges and have no one to even put down a co-signing for payment to ensure they’ll come to court. We have done no down payments to help people before — this bill doesn’t make things equal.”

A better solution, Sandoval-March said, would have been to reduce California’s high bail schedule. A bail schedule, which sets the bail for given crimes, could have been made more affordable for all if state legislators cared about income equality, she said.

“They don’t have to make it a get-out-of-jail-free card,” she said.

A coalition of opponents, Californians Against the Reckless Bail Scheme, began petitioning Wednesday to collect 365,880 signatures from registered voters to put the measure on the November 2020 ballot for voters to weigh in.

The coalition includes criminal justice-advocacy organizations that, despite opposing the current bail system, disagree with the new law’s provisions.

Representatives from the Association of the Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs declined to make a formal statement on the issue.

“They’re going to have more law enforcement in every county, and it’s more burdens on taxpayers,” Nuri March said. “What we do is a private bail … with no burden to the general public. We handle things without any cost to the community, by charging a 5 (percent) to 10 percent fee to those who want to take a bail bond. Then if they show up to court, the court gives us the money back and they don’t have to pay the whole thing.

“Now they’re going to have to have people show up to court based on faith,” he said. “And they closed an entire industry overnight. We don’t have jobs anymore once this takes effect.”

Santa Clarita City Councilman Cameron Smyth said the bail bond industry indicated the Legislature was attempting to reform the prison system, but didn’t believe it was making the state safer.

“The intent is compassionate, but the result has been in many cases that communities don’t feel safer and there are increases in crime,” Smyth said. “I’m open to reforming our prison system. I think that’s important — but we just want to do it in a way where the result isn’t higher crime rates throughout California.”

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