Why Bail Reform Doesn’t Solve the Problem

As we wait for verification of the over 500,000 signatures submitted by the opposition to SB-10, California’s Bail Reform Law, we must take a moment to look at why so many people oppose the elimination of bail and why the alternative doesn’t measure up.  If enough signatures are verified, the bill, signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, would be put on hold until 2020 when it would be placed on the ballot.  SB-10 was set to take effect in October 2019.

Given all the talk about the need for bail reform, why is there such a large opposition?  We can start with the basics.  Survey after survey tells us that people want to stay tough on crime. Public safety is a primary concern of judges, prosecutors and law enforcement that oppose complete abolishment of bail.  There have been too many stories of defendants committing new crimes from jurisdictions that have eliminated bail preferring a risk assessment system to determine pretrial release eligibility are staggering.

In addition to public safety, human rights organizations worry that the alternative to bail is not a fair replacement.  The risk assessment tools used to determine whether to release a person pretrial may be based on biased data.  There are deep injustices present in America’s criminal justice system, but these aren’t solved with a system that has inequities built into it.  If a pretrial risk assessment tool uses data such as job information and physical address to determine whether a person should be released, it is prejudiced against those who may not have the same means as another defendant.

It is clear, criminal justice reform needs to happen.  What isn’t clear is the right path to take.  Eliminating bail and replacing it with a system that only exacerbates the injustices and prejudices already present does not solve the problem.

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