California Governor Jerry Brown’s decision to abolish the bail bond business this week is just the first step in a multi-level criminal justice reform initiative.
On Tuesday, Gov. Brown signed SB 10, which abolishes cash bail by next year, into law.
Governor Brown had battled bail for four decades, beginning with his 1979 State of the State Address, in which he called money bail “an obvious tax on poor people in California” that “languish in the jails of this state even though they have been convicted of no crime.” Brown said at the time his goal was to release more people awaiting trial.
Brown subtly acknowledged that — and suggested he did not care — in his statement at the SB 10 signing: “[O]ur path to a more just criminal justice system is not complete, but today it made a transformational shift away from valuing private wealth and toward protecting public safety.”
According to the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), there were 646,000 people locked up in more than 3,000 local jails throughout the U.S in 2016. With 70 percent of those being held pre-trial, PPI complains that there has been a significant nationwide move by the courts to money bail, away from allowing non-financial forms of pre-trial release, such as on their own recognizance.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Felony Defendants in Large Urban Counties series, for every 100 arrested and pre-trial charged in 2009, 24 were released on their own recognizance, 4 were denied bail, and 72 were offered money bail.
A typical bail was $10,000 in 2015, but often a bail bondsman will post the full bail for a 10 percent non-refundable fee of $1,000. Under the standard bail-bond agreement, the family puts up collateral, but more fees can be charged for surveillance or other costs.
PPI reported that 38 percent will post bail and be released, while 34 percent will remain in jail for failing to post a bond. The Obama administration condemned money bail as “a crude way to screen pretrial defendants for their risk of flight or to the community.”
A podcast by the Shouse Law Firm — which specializes in criminal law — featuring Eric Barter of the Bad Boys Bail Bonds, indicated that about 9 percent of clients on bond do not show up for their hearing. Many no-shows simply fail to reach court on time, but Bad Boys preserves its profit by finding and returning clients that do not show.
California’s decision to eliminatie cash bail is just the first step in PPI’s national effort to eliminate the injustice of what it claims is excessive detention of poor people by the American criminal justice system.