California is set to become the first state in the U.S. to eliminate cash bail for suspects awaiting trial.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill (California Money Bail Reform Act) at the end of August. In October 2019, the new law will go into effect.
For nearly 40 years, the governor has waited to overhaul the state’s cash bail system. During his State of the State Address in 1979, Brown claimed that the current system was flawed with bias wealthy individuals can easily pay to be free, while the poor are forced to stay in custody.
Currently, the bail system enables judges to determine cash bail for the pretrial release of defendants. When the new law goes into effect, local courts will decide who will be released or remain in custody prior to trial. Each jurisdiction will create an algorithm to make those determinations.
Most misdemeanor nonviolent defendants would be released within 12 hours. When it comes to other cases, offenders will be scored on the likeliness they report to their court hearing, the severity of the offense, and the likeliness to re-offend. It will be possible that some individuals will be released under certain conditions, such as GPS monitoring or routine check-ins.
However, there are some concerns over cash bail reform. For example, individuals without any previous criminal history can still be held in custody, giving substantial weight to a judge’s discretion. Additionally, algorithmic risk assessment programs used in the past have been proven to discriminate against people of color, scoring them more likely to commit crimes in the future.