Should California eliminate cash bail?


Assessing the accused to be placed on bail or not. Credit: Unsplash, Saúl Bucio

Jathniel Coronado, Community News Reporter

What would happen if posting bail money was no longer an option?

That was the intent of a 2018 law but that was challenged almost immediately by the bail bond industry. So it is now on the ballot as a proposition, which would be much harder to undo if approved.

If passed, Proposition 25 would remove the option of cash bail and replace it with a system that helps a judge decide whether to release someone based on the risk of the person fleeing and the risk to the public.

Supporters of Prop. 25 say it would be a more fair bail system. That’s because they say it’s discriminatory for people who cannot afford to post bail to wait in jail before trial and borrowing from bail bond companies can be costly and put low-income families in debt, according to the California Secretary of State’s website.

The average bail levels increased 22 percent from 2002 and 2012, according to a report by the Public Policy Institute of California. And the group reported that in September 2014, 62 percent of beds, about 50,000 in all, were filled with inmates awaiting trial or sentencing. 

What’s more, there is growing evidence that a percentage of those behind bars don’t belong there.

According to the LA Times, the rate of wrongful convictions in the United States is estimated to be somewhere between 2% to 10%. When applied to the prison population of 2.3 million, there are anywhere from 46,000 to 230,000 innocent people behind bars. 

“The justice system is supposed to bear the burden of having to prove why the accused is guilty, however with the broken bail system in this state, the accused are treated as guilty from the moment that the judge dictates a ridiculously high bail amount. This unattainable bail amount is almost like a “pre-punishment” for the accused. The majority of those that are impacted by this broken system are poor people of color like me,” says Genesis Coronado, associate governmental program analyst for the California Department of Justice.

Opponents say that the computer-generated system to help judges assess risk might also be discriminatory.

“I think the bail system makes the criminal justice system feel like a pay-for-freedom setup. The presumption of innocence has a dollar value, but handing complete power to Attorneys General and Judges on who gets locked up and who doesn’t also feels a little lopsided,” said Libni Garcia, a contractor in Los Angeles.  

During this time of racial reckoning, many people are calling for changes in the criminal justice system. Proposition 25 would take a step in that direction but it has an uphill battle in some communities in the state, experts say.

“At the present time, any proposal for reducing or abolishing cash bail has to overcome a widespread perception that recent social unrest and increasing rates of crime (in at least some locales) are connected to the quick release of accused lawbreakers due to a relaxation of bail requirements,”  said Taylor E. Dark III, professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at California State University, Los Angeles. “This may or may not be true, but the impression is out there. On the other hand, there remains a widespread desire to reform policing and reduce incarceration.”

The complete 2020 voter guide is available here.

Community News reporters are enrolled in JOUR 3910 – University Times. They produce stories about under-covered neighborhoods and small cities on the Eastside and South Los Angeles. Please email feedback, corrections and story tips to [email protected]