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With New Report, LA County Moves Forward to Create a Roadmap for Bail Reform

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

Last March, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to explore possibilities for reforming the county’s cash bail system.

On Friday, the Office of County Counsel came back with a report commissioned by the board through the March 2017 motion authored by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis. County Counsel analyzed the county’s current policies and practices surrounding bail and pretrial release and returned to the board with a timeline for creating and piloting a new risk assessment tool and other pretrial services.

The Problem With Cash Bail

In Los Angeles and across the nation, cash bail has a disproportionately negative impact on poor and minority Americans, and has greatly contributed to overcrowding in jails.

Nationally, rapidly expanding jail populations can be attributed, in part, to a growing reliance on pre-trial detention, according to a May report from the non-profit Prison Policy Initiative.

In LA, nearly half of the county’s jail inmates are being held while they await trial—usually because of an inability to post bail.

And between May 2016 and May 2017, defendants in LA County paid approximately $173 million in non-refundable cash to bail bondsmen, and $13.6 million directly to the courts, according to a report commissioned by CA Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.

“Rooted in financial, social equity, and justice considerations, there is a growing acknowledgment that the current money bail system in Los Angeles County deeply needs reform,” Supervisor Solis said. “Despite a court’s determination that someone is eligible for bail, and therefore poses only a minimal threat to public safety, far too many people remain in jail simply because they cannot afford bail, often losing their jobs, their housing, and in some instances, even their families.”

The National Movement Toward Calculating Risk With Algorithms

Risk assessment efforts have been praised as a means of reducing the country’s astronomic prison population and corrections spending by calculating the likelihood that a person will return to court or commit a new crime if released, based on factors like the individual’s prior convictions, if they have failed to appear in court before, their current charge(s), education, employment, and age. Judges then use these risk assessment reports to inform their decisions about whether individuals should be released before trial.

“Using a validated pretrial risk assessment tool also reduces bias and subjectivity in pretrial release decisions and helps identify which conditions, if any, should be required for those who are released,” the report states.

Not everyone agrees about the benefits of relying on risk assessment, however. Critics, including San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi and Human Rights Watch, have said that using algorithms to determine who should be kept in jail is a practice prone to racial and economic discrimination.

Through its research, County Counsel found that judges in the counties it observed “expressed the value they place on pretrial reports, which provide detailed background information about detainees, such as employment history, residential stability, previous failures to appear, criminal history, and community ties.”

Judges were also more likely to allow individuals to leave lockup if there was a system in place for the supervised release of pretrial detainees. “The supervised release programs in these jurisdictions had varying levels of supervision (e.g. low, medium, high) and monitored a variety of pretrial release conditions, including court appearance reminders, electronic monitoring (GPS monitoring units), face-to-face meetings, random curfew checks, and drug rehabilitation treatment,” County Counsel wrote.

Under current California law—“independent of any proposed legislation”—LA County would be able to “create a robust pretrial services program,” according to the report.

However, if passed, the state’s proposed bail reform bill, SB 10, would change the landscape of pretrial detention in California’s 58 counties.

The supes’ 2017 motion pointed to the possibility of having defendants submit a refundable 10% deposit directly to the court. According to County Counsel, this would be possible if SB 10 is passed, but otherwise, current state law only authorizes pretrial individuals to deposit the entire bail amount with the court.

So, What’s the Plan?

After gathering data and receiving input from other counties as well as LA County stakeholders, County Counsel has created a two-phase plan for moving forward with bail reform in LA County.

During Phase 1, which started in February, County Counsel has convened a steering committee to choose a risk assessment tool “and means of using and validating” the tool, as well as identifying “resource and training requirements” for the tool of choice. At the end of Phase 1, in June, County Counsel will return to the board of supervisors with an update on progress.

During Phase 2, which will start in June and end in December, the project will move on to developing a pilot program to test risk assessment and pretrial supervision on “a limited population at a specific site.” County Counsel’s team will also set up a system for data collection so that the county can evaluate the program on an ongoing basis. The project would then move on to creating and implementing training for the risk assessment tool, and launching the pilot program. After monthly meetings with the steering committee regarding the pilot’s progress and any wrinkles to be addressed, County Counsel will return to the board of supervisors once more with recommendations for system-wide cash bail reform.

“I am committed to ensuring that the bail reform process we undertake reduces any disparate racial or poverty-related impacts on incarcerated populations,” Supe Solis said. “For social justice, criminal justice, economic, and moral reasons, Los Angeles County must–and will–do better.”


Image by Sarah Nichols, Flickr

14 Comments

  • Screw Solis and anyone who thinks like her. As usual, not a care in the world for the real at risk population which is the law abiding public. No thoughts at all for witnesses and victims of the criminal population, not one thought.

  • The same people who have been “handling” the homeless invasion (amongst other debacles) want us to trust that they have a plan to monitor a large number Pre trial detainees who they wish to release. We’re told not worry because they weren’t arrested for a violent crime and they’re probably nonviolent anyways, or something like that. The plan is to release these people based on the latest fashion in racial politics , under some kind of racial quota (they’re not being very specific on this point) ,so what could possibly go wrong?

  • Gentlemen, I agree with you most of the time, and a few years back I would have totally agreed with your comments above. Under the McBuckles regime, many deputies have been falsely accused and framed for crimes they did not commit for political reasons, the phony “Justice and Reform” fresh eyes mantra. Some cases have been published here, on this website, most have not, because the regime knows they will lose in court, and to avoid the embarrassment and the scrutiny by the media, they are not published. Those deputies are not a risk to the community and not likely to flee to avoid prosecution. They had to post bail as any other person. Luckily most are able to post bail, but it was an unesesary expense on top of all the other financial issues as a result of their criminal case. However, imagine they could not post bail, they would be in jail.

    The question I will ask, if a regime at the top, conspires, fabricates or destroys evidence, exaggerates or misrepresents the facts, to get a deputy arrested and convicted, how many other regular citizens are out there framed by the police or their accusers?

    So on this issue I would support my liberal, justice warriors. I just hope Mrs. Solis looks at her Sheriff Departmen for clues and evidence of what she is trying to prove. It is right there in front of her, and accesible to her. She can use all the deputies waiting for their day in court as evidence they are not a risk to the community nor are they at risk of flight.

    • It doesn’t have to be a regime in the top to conspire, fabricate or destroy evidence, exaggerate and misinterpret facts to get a deputy arrested and convicted. It only took ALADS, IAB & ICIB to do it in which they failed to get a filing, thus the ALADS vs Macias et al in
      Civil Court, come May 21st. High drama & high costs on membership’s dime.

      • Interesting how ALADS Board deflects the true cost of this case as they incorporate it under total legal billing. For those deputies who don’t know, don’t care or just not aware, you will know when it’s over. While we’re waiting on our raise, get your popcorn and favorite brew for ALADS trial and the ruling of agency shop by SCOTUS.

  • Sorry, how many deps are we talking about compared to the rest of the population that the people should be safe from? Hey I think our traffic fines for minor violations are nothing but legal 211’s but blame that on whoever’s approving the schedule for those fines. $471 for rolling a stop sign, WTF? I’m also ok for taking someone’s record into account when considering bail but not tossing it out because no felony in the last year when they have many on their record before that, no thanks. Like I said the SJW’s care nothing about the honest public or cops.

  • Joe , I hope you’re not looking for help from your liberal justice warriors, they love throwing cops in jail and the more cops the sheriff fires and railroads into the legal system the better they like it. Ms. Solis has an agenda to empty the jails of common criminals (her constituents) don’t confuse that that civil rights.

  • Release the “Brady List” which comprises of men and women who swore to uphold the law, but instead they lie, cheat, steel and kill.
    Granted there are some on that list who are not guilty but many are. Release the list for true justice reform.
    @ Joe, You are correct. When cops attack their own, you can quadruple that number for citizens.

    • The list is both meaningless and fake. When the entire IAB and ICIB investigative apparatus has been compromised for political gain, there is nothing credible to be gleaned from its product. All you have to do is look who overseas it, one Chief Mannis, the same one who oversaw internal affairs during the glory days of Baca/Tanaka.

  • I have no further comment other than to scratch my head, this whole thing of justice is nothing but an idea, similar to the idea of happiness, I have come to realize it does not exist…

  • I have a question for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. When will you commission a report on
    “WHY IS THE CRIME RATE IN LOS ANGELES COUNTY STILL GOING UP?” Every criminologist will tell you that crime rates go down when we have a strong economy. However, Los Angeles County seems to buck that trend. So before you guys think of ways to appease yourselves to criminals, why don’t you try to help the law-abiding citizens and do something about the rising crime rate.

  • This is report is complete propaganda. Jails are not crowded because of the bail industry. People are not in jail because they are poor. Eliminating bail and using government funded pretrial service agencies does not work…look at Kentucky. Their jails are more crowded and there is zero accountability in their criminal justice system. It is scary to think that the LA county Board of Supervisors is ignoring facts and jumping on the social justice bandwagon at the expense of crime victims and public safety. How in the world is releasing criminal defendants into our communities with zero supervision helping public safety. The soft on crime approach to California’s criminal justice system is failing. Prop 47 and 57 are free passes for criminals to prey upon the law abiding citizens of California and our elected representatives are doing nothing to protect us. Instead they are coddling the criminals and treating them like victims. It has to stop.

    They say that people are languishing away in jail because they are poor. Well, maybe they should actually look at the LA County jail population, because it is not filled with poor people or low level first time offenders. It is filled with hard core dangerous criminals. The last Sheriffs report which provides the real population number for the LA County jail showed that less then 2% of the people in the LA County jail in 2016 were there on low level, non-violent charges. The remaining population consisted of hard core violent “FELONS” and people who had various “HOLDS” on their release. In other words, they were not there because they were poor. They were there because they were not bailable. That is not the fault of the bail industry.

    The whole bail reform movement is a failed experiment to try and manipulate our jail populations to reflect a perfect even distribution of races and socioeconomic profiles. Unfortunately, that is not the reality of the world. We can’t waste our time and money, trying to manipulate and manufacturer a fairer world. Bad people are bad people and they need to be held accountable. No matter what their color or how much money is in there pocket. If you commit the crime, you pay the price for your poor choices.

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