A YES vote on Prop 25 is a vote to replace the money bail system with the use of pretrial risk assessment tools that focus on safety and flight risk. It is estimated that almost 46,000 Californians, a disproportionate number of whom are Black and Latinx, are being held in jail but not yet sentenced. Cash bail both criminalizes poverty and reflects the systemic racism that plagues our criminal legal process. California must move away from the money bail system to create a fairer and more equitable criminal legal system that balances public safety with the presumption of innocence. People who pose little threat to public safety should not be subject to losing their jobs, homes, and families simply because they lack the money to pay for release from jail while awaiting their day in court. While the new law that would go into effect with a YES vote is not perfect, it can be amended by the legislature. A NO vote, however, could enshrine cash bail and prevent future legislative action to curtail the commercial bail industry.
Vote YES on Prop 25
The move away from money bail is important for reasons of equity and justice. Under a money bail system, those who remain in jail awaiting a hearing -- despite a presumption of innocence -- are often those who cannot afford to pay bail rather than those truly deemed a threat to society. Millions of taxpayer dollars are spent on needless pretrial detention of individuals. In addition, the money bail system perpetuates racial inequities in the criminal legal system by disproportionately keeping people of color incarcerated before they are tried in a court of law.
The League of Women Voters of California supports a criminal justice system that is just, effective, and equitable at all stages, including in pretrial practices. The constitutional presumption of innocence is vital in pretrial detention considerations, and all instances of detention while awaiting trial must be narrowly tailored exceptions to that constitutional protection.
Detention in jail because of a financial inability to “make bail” means that a person may lose their job, their housing, their children, and more, despite the fact that there has been no judgment of the person’s guilt. It also dramatically increases the pressure on someone to agree to a plea bargain to avoid extended detention in jail awaiting trial. Because of our country’s history of structural racism, poverty continues to impact communities of color more heavily and a money bail system magnifies that inequity by disproportionately keeping people of color detained in jail awaiting trial. Money bail systems have long been criticized for being unrelated to public safety and reduction of flight risk. Instead, access to wealth too often determines who is released pretrial and who remains detained.
Pretrial risk assessment tools as alternatives to money bail are controversial as there is some evidence that these tools can be designed and used in ways that increase racial bias and inequity in the pretrial process. However, a California law was recently passed that requires that pretrial risk assessment tools go through a validation process at least once every year. That process measures the accuracy and reliability of the tools in assessing whether a defendant will appear in court, what the risk to the public is, and any bias the tool might have with regard to gender, race, or ethnicity. Validation reports, as well as other information on the risk assessment tools, must be made available to the public.
SB 10, which is the law that would be preserved by the passage of Prop 25, is criticized by some criminal justice advocates for not going far enough to rectify racial inequities in our legal system. However, if this referendum succeeds in overturning SB 10, it may legally prevent future legislative action to curtail use of cash bail and the commercial bail industry. Furthermore, one of the main obstacles to reform has consistently been the $3 billion bail bond industry that profits from the money bail system. Shortly after SB 10 was signed into law, the American Bail Coalition organized the referendum campaign to repeal SB 10 by placing it on the ballot as Proposition 25. Passage of Prop 25, which would eliminate the impediment of cash bail and its well-funded industry lobbyists, will allow for further legislation to improve on SB 10 and fulfill its promise of a fair and more equitable justice system.
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