Pretrial Detention/Release

LA County to Look Into Reforming Its Cash Bail-Reliant Pretrial System

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on a motion to explore ways the county can reform its cash bail system.

California and other states and local jurisdictions across the nation have joined a growing movement to reform the cash bail system, which has a disproportionately negative impact on poor and minority Americans, and contributes to overcrowding in jails.

The motion, authored by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis would direct County Counsel to analyze the county’s current policies and practices surrounding bail and pretrial release.

The county would also hire a consultant to assess the best practices for establishing and using evidence-based risk assessment tools.

Risk assessment efforts have been touted as a means of reducing the country’s astronomic prison population and corrections spending by estimating an offender’s risk of reoffending. Judges using risk assessment look at factors such as prior offenses, marital status, age, sex, education, and employment.

Kuehl and Solis’ motion, which is expected to pass, would also have County Counsel team up with the CEO’s Office to look into possible alternatives for using bail bondsmen. The motion suggests the possibility of having defendants submit a refundable 10% deposit directly with the court.

In an op-ed for the LA Daily News, Supe. Kuel discusses the importance of reforming LA County’s bail system, and suggests looking to cities and counties that have successfully reduced their reliance on cash bail as examples.

LA has a particularly low rate of pretrial release. Nearly half of the county’s jail inmates are being held while they await trial, according to LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell.

“The county’s Pretrial Services Division assesses approximately 17 percent of people booked into jail each year,” Kuehl writes. “That means judges do not have sufficient evidence to determine whether 83 percent of those booked are appropriate candidates for reduced bail or could be released on their own recognizance.”

Supe. Kuehl suggests implementing pretrial services that have worked in other jurisdictions—like automated calls or text messages sent out to remind people of their upcoming court dates.

While one day of pretrial incarceration costs $177 in Los Angeles, the county’s other pretrial services cost between $2.50 and $5.00 per day.

Kuehl points to Santa Clara as a county that has successfully reformed its cash bail system at the local level. In June of 2016, the county implemented a risk-assessment tool that helps judges make informed pretrial decisions, saving the county over $33 million so far, by releasing 1,400 defendants awaiting trial. Since last June, 95% of defendants released while awaiting trial showed up to court, and the county has experienced a 99% public safety rating among those released from custody before their trial.

Santa Clara isn’t alone in its efforts to reform the broken bail system. Last year, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi established a Bail Unit to help more defendants win pre-trial release and reduce racial disparities in the justice system.

Photo of Absolute 24-Hour Bail Bonds office across from the Contra Costa County Detention Facility – by Centpacrr.

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