ACLU Turns Against California Bail Reform Bill It Helped Craft

The group fears the bill wouldn't really reduce unneeded pretrial detentions of the poor.


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The California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union announced today that it is completely turning against a bill to end the use of cash bail to decide who goes free prior to trial and who remains stuck behind bars.

This is a bill that the ACLU once supported. SB10 would have Caliornia follow in the footsteps of New Jersey and Alaska by turning to a pretrial assessment and monitoring system and away from cash bail schedules for people who have been charged with crimes but not yet convicted.

This overdependence on cash bail has resulted in a pretrial justice system where poor people either end up stuck in jail while they wait, where they're more likely to accept bad plea deals just to get out, or have to put up what little savings they're able to scrape together to give to a bail bonds company (and say goodbye to that money, even if the charges are dropped).

Bail reformers don't want money to determine who gets out of jail before trial. So SB10 would establish pretrial services programs across the state that would use a risk assessment system to determine who gets detained and would put in new mechanisms to keep track of defendants to make sure they show up for court.

But in the negotiations over the bill, it's been changed to give the court system itself a significant amount of control over the development of these assessment tools, and to give judges a lot of control to decide who is detained. Bail activists fear that SB10 now would create an environment of presumption of detention where defendants would still end up in jail but wouldn't even have the option to pay bail to get out.

On Friday, I noted that the ACLU had gone neutral on the bill while other civil rights groups have turned against it completely. Today the ACLU issued a statement officially opposing the legislation:

As much as we would welcome an end to the predatory lending practices of the for-profit bail industry, SB 10 cannot promise a system with a substantial reduction in pretrial detention. Neither can SB 10 provide sufficient due process nor adequately protect against racial biases and disparities that permeate our justice system.

Unfortunately, this amended version of SB 10 is not the model for pretrial justice and racial equity that the ACLU of California envisioned, worked for, and remains determined to achieve. We oppose the bill because it seeks to replace the current deeply-flawed system with an overly broad presumption of preventative detention. This falls short of critical bail reform goals and compromises our fundamental values of due process and racial justice.

The bail bond industry also opposes the bill. So in order to pass SB10, lawmakers would have to go against the will of both interest groups.

The revised bill has the support of Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, as well as Democratic frontrunner to replace Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.