Why Do Unsentenced Defendants Overflow California Jails?

Pretrial Unsentenced DefendantsRealignment has elevated concern regarding the intersection of the bail industry and California’s un-sentenced jail population. Prior to Realignment, 71% of California’s jail population was un-sentenced. By the end of 2011, three months after the implementation of Realignment the statewide average dropped to 65%.

Many advocates have expressed concern that a significant number of this un-sentenced population remains confined to local county jails solely due to their inability to meet the monetary obligations of their set bail. This has a significant impact on the county budgets as confining an individual in county jail is far more expensive then supervising someone in an alternative community-based program.

The concerns of a diverse group of stakeholders lead the Little Hoover Commission to examine the issue in late 2012. This examination including testimony for statewide experts such as former-CDCR Secretary Matt Cate, Honorable Judge Manley, and Chief Probation Officer Scott MacDonald.

The Commission, an independent oversight agency, released recommendations for reform after the completion of their thorough study. One of the recommendations is to require all counties to adopt a validated risk and needs assessment tool. These tools allow practitioners and judges to make informed decisions when setting bail for pre-trial detainees, releasing individuals on their own recognizance, or releasing them into alternative supervision programs. The bail industry has been widely criticized for not utilizing a validated assessment instrument.

Trusted tools that have been tested can assist local counties in implementing deliberate interventions that alleviate jail bed space and reduce the number of un-sentenced individuals in jail. While many counties have significant strides to implement risk/needs assessment tools, the capacity and infrastructure is disparate across the state.

Californians for Safety and Justice recently released a tool kit geared to assist practitioners in the implementation of risk/needs assessments. Additionally, the California State Association of Counties, the Sheriffs’ Association, and Chief Probation Officers Association of California are investing in training efforts. Despite these efforts to provide technical assistance, at a recent PPIC event, justice leaders from these associations indicated they would not support mandatory use of risk and needs assessment tools statewide as the openly oppose unfunded mandates. This indicates progress towards mandatory use of such tools will be an uphill battle.

kate mccrackenIn an era of Realignment where we continue to confine individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety solely based on their financial ability to post bail, we need to urge local practitioners to seek out these available resources. Not only will these tools aid local law enforcement and judicial bodies in making better informed decisions, they will aid in cultivating a more efficient and cost-effective county-based system.

Kate McCracken
Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

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