Soapbox

California could lead the way on criminal justice reform. First the Legislature must do away with cash bail

State Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, right, and Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, left, celebrate during a news conference after their bill to end money bail was approved Aug. 16 by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
State Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, right, and Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, left, celebrate during a news conference after their bill to end money bail was approved Aug. 16 by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. AP

California is on the verge of one of the most transformational, paradigm-shifting criminal justice reforms in the history of the state and the nation. We now have a fundamentally broken, unsafe, and unfair money bail system that sets a price tag on liberty and fails to keep the public safe.

We must change it with Senate Bill 10, which was approved by the state Assembly on Monday and goes back to the Senate for concurrence.

 
Opinion

The current money bail system punishes poor people simply for being poor, with devastating consequences. They have unnecessarily languished in jail for no reason other than they couldn’t afford bail – an average of $50,000. Many lost their jobs, their homes, their cars and, in some cases, their kids.

And this system has not made us safer. Dangerous individuals with money have bought their freedom. The money bail system is designed to release people without regard to the risk they might post to the public or any consequence to the bail bond agent if a released individual harms a member of the public. Liberty and freedom should not be pay-to-play.

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Bob Hertzberg2
Robert Hertzberg Lorie Leilani Shelley

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Rob Bonta Credit: Jeff Walters

In the last year, we have reviewed the comprehensive study conducted by California’s judges of our state’s bail system, which concluded the current system should be replaced. We used their findings as we engaged with a wide range of stakeholders, including law enforcement officials, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers, civil libertarians, victims’ rights advocates and social justice groups.

The result of those talks led directly to the current version of SB 10. We have struck the right balance between safety and justice. We abolish a predatory, for-profit money bail system and we enhance public safety by determining whether a person should be released before trial based not on their wealth, but on an individual assessment of their risk to the public and the likelihood they will show up in court.

SB 10 permits defendants who don’t pose a safety risk to be released with the least restrictive conditions. And amendments made to the bill guarantee that there will be no cost to defendants for their release, such as an electronic monitoring device.

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Our bill will reduce the number of people accused of nonviolent, non-serious offenses held in jail solely because they can’t afford to buy their freedom. At the same time, the current version of SB 10 will give crime victims even greater input. Counties will maintain flexibility to develop pre-trial assessment services that best fit their needs. And we will closely watch the implementation of SB 10, including the required reporting, to make sure that bias and racial inequities don’t influence decisions.

We must take advantage of this moment to create greater justice and greater safety, and pass SB 10 now.

Robert Hertzberg, a Los Angeles Democrat, represents the 18th state Senate District and can be contacted at Senator.Hertzberg@sen.ca.gov.

Rob Bonta, an Alameda Democrat, represents the 18th state Assembly District and can be contacted at assemblymember.bonta@assembly.ca.gov.

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