Questions Remain After Governor Brown Signs SB10

Senate Bill 10 was signed into law last week by California’s Governor Jerry Brown.  Dubbed “The California Bail Reform Act” SB10 effectively ended money bail, but many question if the proposed replacement is any better or if it in fact increases discrimination deeply rooted in the criminal justice system.  Human rights organizations across the state composed a joint statement opposing the passage of the bill.   The statement discusses the problem with relying on risk assessment tools relied on in the bill.

According to the statement, risk assessment tools used to determine pretrial release eligibility relies on biased data that perpetuates the biases already present in the criminal justice system.  Although, there has been a lack of transparency in the exact information used to determine a defendant’s release eligibility, similar risk assessment tools use information like arrest records and give ratings based on defendants who have similar characteristics to the defendant.  These tools do nothing to eliminate the underlying bias displayed in the criminal justice system.

Furthermore, opponents are concerned with what happens to the defendants after the risk assessment tools produce a rating.  Under the law, ratings produced by the tools are not automatically put into specific buckets.  Defendants are placed into “low-, medium- and high-risk buckets.”  The size of the buckets is a policy decision yet to be determined.  Many wonder if policy makers could use this unsettled categorizing to keep more people incarcerated pretrial by rating them “high-risk.”

Given the concerns, it seems law makers should reconsider SB10 and the implications of eliminating the cash bail system without real reform.  There is currently a petition to allow the SB10 to go to the voters.

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