The ACLU of California is working with several organizations to co-sponsor SB 10: The California Money Bail Reform Act of 2017. Introduced by Senator Bob Hertzberg and other legislators, the bill will reform California's money bail system by ensuring that people are not kept in jail simply because they cannot afford the bail amount.
In 2017, Governor Brown and the state's Chief Justice both committed to working with the Legislature to reform California's bail system and get it done in 2018. SB 10 passed out of the Senate and is now up for consideration in the Assembly.
Momentum for bail reform is gaining steam both here in California and throughout the country for one simple reason: the current money bail system isn't working.
We know that communities are safer and healthier when they are whole, but money bail is tearing them apart. Even just a few days in jail can lead to someone losing their job, losing child custody, and being evicted, yet people are being held in jail for days, weeks, and even months while awaiting trial. We also know that the current system isn't serving it's intended purpose of protecting communities and ensuring that people come to court, and that there are more effective and equitable alternatives out there. We're excited to work with the California Legislature, our allies, and ACLU members to build a system that truly works for everyone, not just the wealthy.
Money bail has created a two-tiered system of justice in California – one for the rich, and one for everyone else.
The current money bail system gives the rich a “get out of jail” pass while punishing everyone else with detention and debt.
All too often in California, people who have been arrested but not convicted of a crime are locked in jail for weeks, months, or even years while they wait for trial. Many would be able to return home, if they could afford to post bail.
Sometimes, law enforcement detains people — especially people of color — because of baseless arrests or mix-ups, but the consequences are swift, devastating, and long lasting. In California, one-third of felony cases are dropped or the person is later found innocent.
But even short stays in jail can cost people their jobs, cars, homes, and even custody of their children. We inflict this harsh punishment on people who are presumed innocent and have actually not been convicted of a crime.
Money bail is not making us any safer or making sure people return to court. Meanwhile, the for-profit bail industry is raking in the profits.
California's money bail system does not do a good job of protecting our communities. Under the current system, people’s freedom is determined by their wealth, not by whether or not they can be safely released. Wealthy people can buy their freedom, no matter how much of a risk they pose.
California’s system is also not very effective at getting people to come back to court for their hearings. In fact, California has lower court appearance rates than the rest of the country. Although some people think that posting bail is an incentive to make sure people come back to court, that’s not the case. If you use a bail bond company to secure pretrial release, you never get that money back regardless of whether you return to court, the District Attorney dismisses the case, or a court ultimately finds you innocent. The incentive just isn’t there.
At the same time, the for-profit lines its pockets with predatory practices to line its pockets with money from people already struggling to make ends meet. Although most people assume that bail bonds companies are 'mom and pop' shops, behind them are powerful, multinational insurance conglomerates that trap thousands of California families – especial in low-income communities of color – in debt with nonrefundable fees and installment plans. Because they are paid even if someone doesn’t up to court, is found innocent, or gets their case dismissed, the bail industry makes millions off premiums alone.
California can build on proven models
Several California counties and states across the country have adopted reforms to truly promote the economic security, well-being, and safety of their communities. California can follow their lead by replacing our current one-size-fits-all money bail system with a system that:
- Makes sure we aren’t locking up people because they can’t afford to post bail;
- Takes a case-by-case approach;
- Prioritizes alternative services to ensure people make their court appearances; and
- Addresses racial and economic disparities in the justice system.
In Kentucky, for example, the state releases about 70 percent of people that are awaiting trial. 90 percent of the people Kentucky releases make all future court appearances and 92 percent are not re-arrested while on pretrial release.
- Video: Breaking Down Bail: Debunking Common Bail Myths by BRAVE NEW FILMS
- A joint report by Color of Change and ACLU: Selling Off Our Freedom: How Insurance Corporations Have Taken Over Our Bail System
- Bail reform fact sheet