When the push to eliminate California’s cash bail system began in the state Legislature several years ago, the battle lines were clearly drawn.
On one side were civil rights groups and criminal justice reform advocates arguing that cash bail is unjust because it allows wealthy defendants to buy their way out of jail as they await trial, while poor defendants who are unable to post bond — disproportionately Black and Latinx — wind up stuck behind bars. On the other side, advocates for tougher criminal penalties, as well as the bail bonds industry, insisted looser bail rules could put public safety at risk.
Now as California’s voters decide this November whether or not to scrap cash bail, disagreements over what would replace it have split the coalition that fought long and hard for its end.
If approved, criminal defendants would no longer post a cash bond to get out of jail before trial. Instead, their release would depend on the severity of charges they face and a “risk assessment” meant to determine whether they are likely to commit new crimes or fail to show up for court.
The measure’s supporters say that means defendants who pose little risk to the public won’t be needlessly locked up for months or even years as their cases move through the system because they can’t afford bond. Their families won’t have to fork over huge sums to bail bonds companies to secure their loved ones’ freedom. Those who pose more of a danger would stay in jail.
But Raj Jayadev, a criminal justice reform activist and co-founder of Silicon Valley De-Bug, warns that the risk-assessment algorithms judges would use to determine whether someone can be safely released from jail would only perpetuate racial bias in the courts. It’s a stance that puts groups like Jayadev’s in an uncomfortable position: On the same side as a bail bonds industry he regards as “parasitic,” and that is spending millions to defeat the initiative.
“Are we going to replace money bail with a new system that is also oppressive, and also stripping of liberty, and also fueling incarceration? Or are we going to take the opportunity to imagine something totally different?” Jayadev said. “That’s what we’re fighting for.”
The split could doom a long-held goal of progressive reformers that has made its way into more mainstream plans to overhaul the criminal justice system: Former Vice President Joe Biden has pledged to lead national efforts to eliminate cash bail if he is elected president.
John Bauters, budget advocacy director for the Alliance for Safety and Justice, a group that supports Proposition 25, said concerns about the risk assessments are valid. But they don’t justify rejecting the measure, Bauters said.
“People want a system that promotes safety and justice,” he said, “and the bottom line is that the current system does neither of those things.
“The bail industry is very happy to sit back and be quiet and let people turn it into a debate that it is not,” Bauters said. “The choice is: Should we eliminate the …read more
Source:: The Mercury News – Politics