Proposition 25 bans money bail

Drawing by Alfred Twu

People arrested can be released before trial without having to pay bail, if they are judged to be a low risk

The California Democratic Party urges a YES vote

For more information go to BALLOTPEDIA

The American justice system must be reformed. One target of that reform is cash bail, a system that puts a price tag on the accused’s freedom while awaiting trial. The changes suggested by Proposition 25, a ballot measure on the November 3 ballot, will address this unjust incarceration that plagues our current system. A “Yes” vote on Proposition 25 would end the horrific system of cash bail in California.

Currently our state’s justice system brings the accused to pretrial court and assesses the risk they pose to society should they be released before trial. This involves weighing factors such as whether the defendant is likely to reoffend, as well as how likely they are to appear for their court date. Based on these assessments, a price is placed on their freedom. D.C. Superior Court Judge Truman Morrison characterizes this system as reliant on “judicial hunch and money, which, of course, makes no sense.”

There is plenty of evidence to suggest how the cash bail system is flawed. Over 60 percent of California prisoners are pretrial detainees, and as many as nine in ten are serving because they cannot afford bail. This leads to loss of jobs, homes, custody of children, and even lives, and forces pretrial guilty pleas to avoid these consequences. These guilty pleas permanently stain the record and hurt the job prospects of the accused. 

Gross juxtapositions also exhibit the systematic miscarriage of justice. Officers who killed Freddie Gray had the same bail as one man arrested for protesting police brutality. One woman, who killed her father and two children, posted thirty-five million dollars by pooling money from her wealthy friends; while another died in custody after he was unable to come up with one hundred dollars for low-level marijuana charges.

Proposition 25 is an alternative solution to cash bail. It proposes pretrial risk assessment divisions that would be responsible for determining if the accused person is “low,” “medium,” or “high” risk based on data with a “legitimate scientific” basis. Risk would still be defined as the defendant’s threat to society upon release and the likelihood they will show up in court, but under this system no accused person would be jailed because they could not raise the money for bail.

California is not the first place to consider instituting such a policy. New Jersey and Washington, D.C. have put in place similar reforms, while municipalities across the nation have begun to chip away at the cash bail system. The results of this revolution are reductions in prison populations that save money and lives, without increases in crime. There have been a few instances of the accused reoffending after release, but often they have received a disproportionate level of press coverage. In fact, the current bail system should cause even more concern over reoffenders because dangerous criminals are often released when they have deep enough pockets.

The petitions to place Proposition 25 on the ballot were circulated by companies that profit from the cash bail system. The American Bail Coalition, whose website explains that they are “made up of national bail insurance companies who are responsible for underwriting criminal bail bonds throughout the United States of America,” has a clear financial interest in supporting this outdated arm of our criminal justice system. Currently, bail bond insurers make two billion dollars in profits per year based on the devastation of communities of color. That’s unacceptable.

Proposition 25 is a “veto resolution” which seeks to overturn SB 10, a bill passed by the California legislature that would eliminate cash bail. Had the bail industry not put Proposition 25 on the ballot, this bill ending cash bail in California would already be law.

In spite of its support for Proposition 25, the ACLU of California has expressed its concern over aspects of SB 10. Use of similar pretrial risk-assessment algorithms by other states has demonstrated that people of color are more likely to be deemed “high risk” because of the preexisting bias inherent in the data provided by the criminal justice system. 

While SB 10 is not perfect, it is a significantly better alternative to our current system of cash bail, which jails the accused more often than the guilty. The ACLU of California, Senator Holly Mitchell, the California Federation of Teachers all encourage a “Yes” vote on Proposition 25. A “Yes” vote will allow SB 10 to become law, and will eliminate cash bail in California.