California becomes first state to abolish cash bail, but gives judges more discretion to jail defendants
Signed by Governor Jerry Brown on Tuesday, a new Californian reform bill, called the California Money Bail Reform Act, will abolish the cash bail system for all defendants awaiting a trial.
Instead of cash bail, courts in different jurisdictions will create algorithms to decide who stays in custody and who leaves while they await trial.
The bill, which will go into effect in October 2019, was made possible when a California appellate court announced that the state’s cash bail system was unconstitutional.
The action was delivered on a public promise to institute necessary reforms by the bill’s authors, Senator Robert Hertzberg (D-Los Angeles) and Assembly Member Rob Bonta (D-Alameda).
Gov. Brown said in a statement, “Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly.”
“This is a transformative day for our justice system. Our old system of money bail was outdated, unsafe, and unfair. It took a three-branch solution with Governor Brown, the Legislature led by Senator Hertzberg and Assemblymember Bonta, and the Judicial Council’s Administrative Director Martin Hoshino working with judges in my Pretrial Detention Reform Work Group to bring about a fair and just solution for all Californians,” said Chief Justice Cantil-Sakau.
The bill has garnered support and praise from many Californian legal experts, activist leaders, and policymakers, although many conservatives criticized it for possibly allowing more dangerous criminals on the streets. Some on the left also pointed out that the reform simply replaces a terrible system with a bad one. Instead of cash bail, the new system gives judges wide discretion to jail defendants after applying “risk-assessments” of their alleged danger.
John Raphling, a senior researcher with the nonprofit Human Rights Watch, explained this critique: “empowering judges to take away our liberty based on biased algorithms and the judges’ own subjective choices, with no standards and no due process.”
Other states, such as New Jersey, are passing laws inhibit advantages made by cash bail. Washington, D.C. has a cashless bail system in place.