Bail Reform

$68 Million in State Funding Goes to Local Pretrial Reforms, While CA Voters Wait to Decide Fate of Bail Reform Law

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

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.


  • Why is California moving forward with implementing pretrial programs when over 1/2 million voters asked for the issue to be place on the ballot for the voters to decide? In the last 12 months over 100 civil rights organizations (including the NAACP and the ACLU), 80 technology companies (including Google, Facebook and Amazon) and 27 of the top researches in the area of predictive algorithms have all come out against the use of risk assessments in the criminal justice system. The mountains of evidence show that they are not only perpetuating racial bias, but they are also extremely ineffective in actually predicting the behavior of defendants. The accuracy level of these risk assessments has been described as just as effective as a Magic 8 Ball. So once again, why are our elected officials pushing for the elimination of financially secured release when the alternatives are less effective, more costly and worse when it comes to racial and socioeconomic equality in the system. Maybe that is the question we all need to be asking them. It is time for elected officials to start representing the will of the people as opposed to their own agendas.

  • How’s this for risk assessment?

    Ask the sheriff’s department for the actual numbers of violent black offenders in jail awaiting trial. Specifically, check out how many 18-25 y/o blacks are in for robbery and/or murder. Hold on tight to those pearls you’re clutching.

    Here’s your magic 8 ball answer: Outlook Not Good

  • …..and then ask how many have parole or probation violations, holds for warrants from other jurisdictions, bond revocations per a judge’s order, or other reasons for being detained in addition to their current charge. It isn’t always the lack of funds for a bail bond that are keeping defendant in jail.

  • Very misleading premise in the opening paragraph.

    To make a blanket statement that poor arrestees are not being released is ONE BIG LIE. Pre-trial release programs for the poor and indigent have been around for 50 years and are in almost every county in California releasing arrestees AT NO COST, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. THERE SOLE MISSION IS TO RELEASE THE POOR & INDIGENT AT NO COST. So you see, they have an option for no cost pre-trial release right now.

    The problem has been, they don’t release the poor on an OR release because they are less likely to show up in court. DUH. Why else would they deny them? Detention Release programs use the same criteria bondsman use for money bail to qualify arrestees for a free OR release. Is the person a home owner? Do they have a job? How long have they lived in the community? etc.

    Why not go after these ineffective pre-trial programs and fix them? Instead, lawmakers are attacking an industry that doesn’t cost the taxpayers any money – in fact SAVES THE TAXPAYERS MONEY!

    Are there problems with current system? Yes. The key problems are:

    1. Existing pre-trial programs are not doing what they were created to do. They overlook the poor & indigent, leaving them in jail.
    2. Bail schedules – that set the bail amount for various offenses – are in many cases too high and require a lot of money to bail out. These schedules ESTABLISHED BY THE JUDGES, not private bondsman, are exorbitant in many cases. They should be lowered to make money bail more affordable for everyone.
    3. Finally, the bail amount established for an individual should consider the financial standing of the arrestee. $10,000 bond for a millionaire is pocket change and for someone who may be unemployed, it’s just not attainable.

    Why anyone would want to do away with a successful system that has worked for almost 1,000 years and replace it with some warm, fuzzy, feel good “assessment program” makes no sense. If the changes I suggest here were implemented, it would fix the problems law makers are trying to address.

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