California became the first state to abolish cash bail last week, with Gov. Jerry Brown signing the California Bail Reform Act. Under the new law, jails will release most nonviolent offenders within 12 hours of their arrest, and local courts, instead of setting cash bail, will decide whether violent offenders are a flight risk or likely to repeat their crime. Based on that determination, offenders can be held in custody or released with GPS technology tracking their locations.
“By eliminating cash bail, we are saying that those with the least ability to pay should not be released or incarcerated solely on the basis of their wealth or poverty,” Democratic California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said. California is at the forefront of a national movement to reform the bail system. Advocates say it unfairly imprisons low-income defendants, separating them from family and jobs.
“Bail can be used properly, but it is not in fact being done so,” Craig DeRoche, senior vice president of Prison Fellowship, told WORLD Magazine’s Emily Belz earlier this year. “If you are not deemed to be a risk, bail should be a very easy and straightforward process.”
But placing the decision of whom to jail in a judge’s hands is worse than setting bail, detractors argue. The American Civil Liberties Union initially co-sponsored the bill but then withdrew support because it did not include sufficient protection against discrimination. An advocacy group called Silicon Valley De-Bug also switched from supporting to opposing the bill. “They took our rallying cry of ending money bail and used it against us to further threaten and criminalize and jail our loved ones,” the group’s co-founder, Raj Jayadev, told The Sacramento Bee.
The new law is set to take effect in October 2019. —Charissa Crotts