Many people are concerned with the oncoming cash bail reform that will take place in California. It’s due to take effect on October 19, 2019, ending a 40-year system and becoming the first state to ever do so. Some people have praised it, with California’s Governor Jerry Brown calling it a way to “…treat rich and poor fairly…”as reported by CNN .
Others have criticized the bill’s method. NPR writes that one of its original supporters, the American Civil Liberties Union of California, have changed their stand and accuse the reform of encouraging further bias. There are also 150 bail bond agencies now seeing the reform as a threat to their livelihood.
How exactly will this affect the future of the justice system? To find out, here’s a detailed look at what cash bail bonds are, and how the reform changes the current system:
What are bail bonds?
A bail bond is a surety bond used for arrestees in different criminal cases. Here, the arrested persons are detained before a court hearing. The bail bond is used to let them out of detention earlier. These bails are posted by a licensed agent, acting on behalf of licensed surety insurance companies.
The current bail bond scheme
The current cash bail bond scheme uses monetary payment to release detained persons before their court hearing. It uses many different steps to determine if the bond can be posted and accepted. Here’s how it works.
Determining the bail
When a person has been arrested, they are sent to jail and detained until a bail hearing. At the hearing, the judge will set a specific amount. Those who can pay it off can leave the detention facility, but must attend their court trial. Those who cannot are kept in detention, until their court trial date.
Contacting for bail
When a relative or acquaintance of the arrested calls for bail, they must contact a licensed surety insurance company. These companies have representatives, known as “bail agents.” The person acting on behalf of the arrested must inform the bail agent about the bond they need. This includes details about the case such as the name of the arrestee, the charges filed, and the location of the facility they are detained in.
Payment to the agent
Paying the agent is key to posting bail. Usually, agents charge between 10-15% of the total bail needed. However, that can change depending on the location of arrest and the circumstances of the crime.
Sometimes the payment is given through collateral. These are items belonging to the defendant or the one posting the bail, something of value that can substitute for money. These include jewelry, private vehicles, and even property.
Processing of the bail
Once the transaction is made, the bail agent posts the bond to the court. This allows the defendant to leave the facility. However, they are required to return for their next court hearing. There may also be conditions set by the agent, which the defendant must meet.
If they do not show up or violate one of the conditions set, the agent is forced to pay the entire bail amount as recompense. In turn, the agent finds the defendant and sends them back to jail.
If the contract is completed, whether the defendant is guilty or not, collateral can be returned. If the bond is violated, they could be permanently lost as a result.
The upcoming cash bail reform
Now that you know how the current bail system works, you can better understand the changes the upcoming reform bill will enforce. These are the adjustments you can expect once the Bail Bond Reform takes effect.
Cash won’t be used
The first and most important change is that cash bail will no longer be accepted. Simply put, your cash won’t get you out anymore.
Since cash bail is no longer used, that presents another problem: how can defendants post bail? It would be unjust to simply lock them up or let them go before their hearing, since that would be ignoring the severity of their crimes (severe crimes are usually denied bail, as will be explained further).
Instead, the decision to bail is now judged on a risk-based system. This will be used to determine if a defendant can leave detention earlier than his court date. It will be tabulated by local agencies who will determine if the defendant is likely to return for his hearing. It also checks if the person is likely to be arrested again.
There are three key levels in this system. The first is “low risk,” where a person is not identified as a threat or possible escapee. That defendant will be released, but there might be other conditions to ensure they go to the hearing.
The second level is “medium risk,” wherein a person could be a risk to public safety. This level is where the local agencies will determine if that person can leave or is held in detention.
Lastly, there is “high risk,” wherein a person is considered a threat and likely to escape. At this level, all defendants would be denied bail. This covers possible felons and sex offenders, violators of parole, and drunk drivers charged for the third time.
Because of the risk system, another big change is to the defendant’s bail option. In the old system, many crimes could be bailable through the judge’s decision. The only requirement needed is to pay off the resulting bond.
However, the reform changes that completely. Instead, only certain defendants can ever be allowed to leave detention early. Others would be required to stay until their court hearing.
Changes from the Reform
Both left-wing and right-wing parties have looked at the Bail Bond Reform, and have pointed out key facts that make it useful, and can be detrimental. Here are the positive and negative changes that could come from this.
Many people have claimed that the new system is a breath of fresh air. These changes are cited as the best reasons to abandon cash bail.
According to KCRA 3, Gov. Brown said the old system was “…outdated, unsafe, and unfair…” That’s because the biggest complaint about the current bail system is that anything can be bailable, with the right amount of cash. This was seen as an economic bias, hurting the poor more than the rich.
Per the new reform, all 58 of California’s superior courts would devise their own risk system. This puts a new level of responsibility, wherein the court themselves or a trusted organization can set the standards.
In that same KCRA 3 article, Clark Kelso, a law professor in McGeorge School of Law, says the system must be done through “scientifically validated risk assessment tools.” This emphasizes evidence-based research as a reason to release or detain defendants.
Monitoring of defendants
Now, the courts would have to determine if a defendant can leave or not. While it may slow down proceedings, it would ensure authorities will be taking a closer look at all possible criminals.
Not everyone is happy with the bill reform. At the start, it was mentioned that even former supporters have looked changed their stance on it. Here are some arguments on why the reform may be more dangerous than expected.
With the judges having more power to determine who is going to stay incarcerated and who will be let go. There is no way of knowing if an offender of a misdemeanor crime will walk out and commit another crime. There is no accountability when offenders of any crime has been released.
As we know, California is extremely over populated. Therefore, the police force will not have the time or budget to hire many new police officers to make sure the offenders show up to their court appearances.
Bail Bondsmen take on this task at no cost to the taxpayers and courts, to make sure that all offenders will show up to court. Also, Bail Bondsman will apprehend their own fugitives at no cost to the taxpayers.
Will the general public really be safe after the cash bail reform goes into effect in October 2019?
California residents already know about the increasing cost of living. With the cash bail reform, taxpayers will see this increase. As stated by ACLU, NAACP and Human Rights Watch, “The real goal was fewer people in jail before trial. They now worry that California will head in the opposite direction.”
Loss of work
One noted complaint has been presented by the entire bail bond industry. With this new reform, agencies in California would lose their branches or even their whole business. Greg Padilla of Sacramento, a bail bondsman, even said the reform is “…supposed to eliminate it completely…” according to the previously mentioned KCRA 3 article. Simply put, many agents would end up without a job by October of next year.
Abuse in bias
Many citizens are worried that the courts in charge would be given all the power. In their eyes, defendants could be incarcerated even before conviction. Whether innocent or guilty, those placed at medium or high risk could still be held without bail. The ACLU stated that the bill doesn’t sufficiently address or reduce possible racial bias in the decisions of the court.
Because bail won’t be posted, some say it will lead to a substantial rise in detained persons. The ACLU cited it doesn’t guarantee a reduction in pre-trial detainees. For example, the ACLU’s Natasha Minsker said that the bill was “…too heavily weighted towards detention.” Rather than protecting the people, there’s a worry that it could cause more harm for those being held.
With these different reforms, there is no doubt that the current bail bond system and industry is put at risk. From a cash-based bailout, defendants will now have to be assessed. The results could either set them free or be detained. Although it removes money as leverage, only time will tell whether the new system will work or not.