Bills could eliminate bail system

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Bills could eliminate bail systemA pair of bills making their way through the state legislature could eliminate the existing bail bond system, leaving public safety officials concerned that this is just the latest in a series of initiatives that have driven up crime in California.

Assembly Bill 42, co-authored by Democrats Rob Bonta of Oakland and Bob Hertsberg of Van Nuys, passed out of the Public Safety Committee Hearing Tuesday after contentious debate before a packed — and polarized — audience.

Proponents say that the money-bail system is broken, and punishes people for being poor.

“Right now, we have a system where, if you are a flight risk but you have enough money, you can post bail and go free. But if you’re not a flight risk and don’t have money, you remain in jail,” said Bonta.

“That is wrong and we need to fix that.

He said that AB 42, and companion Senate Bill 10, use a risk-assessment tool to more accurately predict whether a suspect in custody is a risk for flight, or to general public safety. He pointed to similar measures adopted by Washington, D.C., and Kentucky.

“California is quite frankly late to the party. We need to reclaim our roles in the nation and the world on this important policy,” said Bonta. He pointed to support from public advocacy groups, as well as media giants including the Sacramento Bee, Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle — all of which have endorsed the bills.

However, opposition included most law-enforcement, code-enforcement, bail bondsman and criminal justice groups throughout the state.

While many acknowledged problems in the current system, some noted that the Supreme Court has opened a comprehensive study — the results of which will not be released before the end of the year. It would be better, they argued, to allow those results to inform the composition of the legislation.

A spokesperson for Crime Victims United said she found it “very sad the victims have not been considered, even as an afterthought. There is no mechanism in either bill for victims to be present or heard, which is guaranteed in the State Constitution.”

Others argued that the proposed language is guaranteed to delay, or even deny, the delivery of justice.

Critics say that risk-assessment tools do not appropriately take into consideration past criminal history or the safety of victims, costs have not been factored in and the proposed system would create a huge backlog in the courts.

Assemblyman Tom Lackey of Palmdale was among the committee members who expressed dissent. “I agree that there is a lot that can be done to create a more just system for low-income Californi-ans awaiting trial. We should not have people who are not a threat to public safety languishing in jail while awaiting trial because they cannot afford to make bail,” he said.

“However, we need to deliberate about how we overhaul this system and need to be sure we are not putting public safety at risk. I think we can find the right balance and I am looking forward to working together on a solution to this important issue.”

Assemblyman Vince Fong, who represents the IWV, said he is awaiting additional amendments to the bill. “AB 42 has undergone significant amendments since the bill has been introduced. As the bill moves through the legislative process and continues to change, I am closely monitoring and reviewing the bill, as well as gathering community input from law enforcement officials and local groups and individuals.”

“Senate Bill 10 is not an improvement to our current bail system,” said state Sen. Jean Fuller. “It puts too much budgetary pressure on our local governments and makes the already difficult job of protecting our communities even more difficult.

“Unless a compromise can be achieved that protects public safety while keeping costs down for local governments, I will remain opposed to this bill.”

Ridgecrest Police Chief Ron Strand said that the initiative is the latest in a series of laws that have been aimed at protecting criminals and the accused — often at the cost of public safety.

Since 2011, AB 109, Prop 47 and Prop 57 have reduced jail time, de-criminalized many classes of felonies, changed sentencing guidelines and adopted other changes that have exacerbated the challenges to front-line defenders of safety. “I understand what California is trying to do, but unfortunately they have forgotten about the victims,” said Strand.

“I don’t see anything in the bill that protects the safety and rights of our victims, I only see consideration for those being accused of crimes. If they go this route, they are only going to create more chaos and crime in our communities.”

Ironically, support for the bill appears to come from the places that will see the largest detriment, said Strand.

“I think in some ways rural areas like ours won’t see the same kind of rise in crime that our metropolitan areas are going to see.

“We certainly need to make sure the punishment fits the crime, but we can’t forget to protect our victims in the process. The scale has tipped so far the other way that while we are reducing consequences, our victims are left to fall through the cracks.”

Pictured: Police Chief Ron Strand

Story First Published: 2017-04-21