California’s Bail System
According to the California Pretrial Detention Reform Workgroup, California’s pretrial bail and detention system is in need of reform.
After her annual State of the Judiciary address to the Legislature in 2016, the Chief Justice of California, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, established the Workgroup to review California’s pretrial detention system. The Workgroup was tasked with identifying methods to make release decisions that will: (1) protect the public; (2) ensure court appearances; and (3) treat all people fairly, regardless of economic access to pretrial monetary bail.
The Chief Justice provided the Workgroup with “guiding principles” to direct the group’s examination of the complex issues involved in California’s pretrial release and detention system. The principles included “pretrial custody should not occur solely because a defendant cannot afford bail” and “public safety is a fundamental consideration in pretrial detention decisions.” Over the course of a year, members reviewed research and policy materials, heard presentations from national experts and those knowledgeable about California’s pretrial justice system, as well as regulators, the commercial bail industry, victim and civil rights groups, and California counties and various jurisdictions that had experience with alternative pretrial services. The Workgroup concluded that the current detention system “unnecessarily compromises victim and public safety because it bases a person’s liberty on financial resources rather than the likelihood of future criminal behavior and exacerbates socioeconomic disparities and racial bias.”
The Workgroup provided a holistic list of 10 recommendations to legislators and stakeholders in California’s criminal justice system. Taken together, the group advises that the recommendations would provide a just and fair pretrial release and detention system; one that balances the protection of the public with the presumption of innocence intrinsic to the due process provisions of our Constitution. These recommendations include “implementing a robust risk-based pretrial assessment and supervision system to replace the current monetary bail system,” “integrate victims’ rights into the system,” and “provide adequate funding and resources.” The executive director of the American Bail Coalition Jeff Clayton, has argued that this type of system unduly puts the public at risk and could have a costly price tag if implemented across California.
Despite bail industry criticism, Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye supports the conclusions of the Workgroup. She believes “California’s current pretrial system unnecessarily compromises victim and public safety” and agrees with the “recommendation to replace our current system of money bail with one based on a defendant’s risk to the public.” She is hopeful the Governor and Legislature will use the Workgroup’s report as a framework to reform the current system and ultimately provide “fair and equal access to justice for all Californians.”