Although California’s bail reform law, SB 10, will remain on hold for more than a year until voters decide its fate via the November 2020 ballot, the state has set aside $75 million in the budget to propel pretrial reform at the local level. Last week, the California Judicial Council approved $68 million in funding for 16 pretrial programs across California over the next two years, as part of the state’s efforts to roll back a system that fills the nation’s jails, and allows wealthy defendants to go free while their low-income peers who can’t afford bail remain behind bars awaiting trial.
Out of a larger pool of 31 applicants, the 12-person Pretrial Reform and Operations Workgroup–convened by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye–selected projects in the counties of Alameda, Calaveras, Kings, Los Angeles, Modoc, Napa, Nevada, Sacramento, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Sierra, Sonoma, Tulare, Tuolumne, Ventura, and Yuba.
Although local officials applied for the state dollars, San Francisco was not selected to receive funding. On the surface, this may sound like an unfavorable turn of events, but the judicial council’s decision will actually save the successful 43-year-running community-based SF Pretrial Diversion Project.
SF Pretrial was threatened with being dissolved and replaced by a brand-new, far more costly, local government-run program, due to the language in Governor Gavin Newsom’s budget.
If San Francisco had received state funding, the probation department would have been tasked with taking over the work of SF Pretrial — starting from scratch without the know-how of the long-standing non-law-enforcement-related program already in place.
“SF Pretrial would like to thank our supporters for preserving San Francisco’s robust pretrial system,” SF Pretrial said of its escape from extinction. “Special recognition also goes out to our staff and Board, who tirelessly execute the hard work that serves our clients and Court and makes us a leader in the field.”
Of the large counties that applied (requesting a total of 106.67 million between them), Los Angeles was approved for $17.3 million in pretrial project funding for its ongoing pilot program, Alameda will receive $14.4 million to “revive and expand” an existing program, and Sacramento will get $9.59 million to launch a new pilot operated by its probation department.
Yet, as California launches and expands programs meant to drastically change the currently cash-bail-reliant pretrial system, concerns remain about potential biases baked into pretrial “risk assessment” tools that will take over much of the work of determining who should be released while awaiting trial, and who should remain in jail for the benefit of public safety.
These tools calculate how risky it would be to release an individual, based on factors such as prior offenses, marital status, age, sex, education, and employment.
And while many proponents of cash bail abolition “see risk assessment tools as being more impartial than judges because they make determinations using algorithms,” according to the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation, “that assumption ignores the fact that algorithms, when not carefully calibrated, can cause the same sort of discriminatory outcomes as existing systems that rely on human judgment—and even make new, unexpected errors.”
Image by Sarah Nichols, Flickr.