California’s revolutionary elimination of bail will force the justice system to adapt itself to a new dynamic when it comes to the detention of criminal suspects, Imperial County officials said in recent interviews.
The California Money Bail Reform Act, or state Senate Bill 10, passed the state legislature and was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in August. It will take effect on Oct. 1, 2019. The act ends the long-standing practice of requiring many non-convicted incarcerated arrestees to post a cash or bond bail to get released.
Proponents argue it ends a system that is unfair to lower-income subjects who cannot afford bail amounts that often exceed $10,000. Opponents say it will create a system more likely to set dangerous individuals free pending the outcome of their cases.
Either way, public-safety officials said they must play the hand they’ve been dealt.
“As it sits right now, SB 10 will have some effects with our jail procedures of releasing and evaluating people,” said Imperial County Sheriff Ray Loera whose agency runs the county jail. “We are doing some pre-releasing programs at the moment and so we are making our way through but I think we will be able to transition fairly smoothly,”
Under the current system bail amounts vary, based on a local schedule, and the more serious the offense, the higher the bail. The system seeks to balance a
person’s right to be innocent until proven guilty with a need to ensure they appear for court hearings.
The new law establishes a system for determining a defendant’s custody status while they await court based on an assessment of risk to public safety and the probability of missing a court date, rather than their ability to pay bail.
This legislation will have an impact locally as law enforcement agencies such as the Sheriff’s Office and county Probation Department will have to modify their work on monitoring and risk-assessment.
The law will require persons arrested and detained to be subject to a pretrial risk assessment conducted by “pretrial assessments services.” Locally that will be county Probation.
The agency will report the results of the risk determination to the court and make recommendations for the conditions of release of individuals pending adjudication of their criminal cases.
Probation Chief Dan Prince said assuming the law is upheld and not delayed his agency is prepared to implement a risk-based system in lieu of bail and also monitor offenders that are placed in pre-trial types of supervision.
“Our officers and staff will be available to assess individuals for the appropriateness of pre-trial release,” Prince said. “We would look at their ties to the community, their employment status, the nature of the offense. All will be part of the risk-based system.”
Prince said Probation is currently asked several times a month to do reports on how suitable inmates are for bail so the new law will be an extension of a process in which Probation is already involved. Additionally, Probation also compiles pre-
sentence reports to assist judges in determining an appropriate sentence for those already convicted.
“When people are sentenced and we are asked to provide a court report or a pre-sentence report, we are in effect providing a risk-assessment letting the court know our best judgment in terms of if they are suitable for probation,” Price said of the current duties. “We will just be doing this with people that are looking to be released before they go to trial.”
Probation has expertise in monitoring the behavior of individuals on probation so the work under the new bail law is similar in that regard as well, Prince added. There will be funding available for risk assessment and monitoring, he added.
“If someone falls into the criteria of high risk, probation will be recommending the court that they remain in custody. The court will then determine at a separate hearing and decide if they will hold somebody in pre-trial detention based on the risk assessment,” Prince said.