As is my way of doing things, I like to take a balanced approach before I make a decision on anything—research both sides of an issue and listen objectively to proponents and opponents who have a stake in the outcome--most with valid, salient points which justify their positions. Thus, determining my personal stand on SB 10 Bail Reform (authored by State Senator Bob Hertzberg) has been no different.
Bail Reform (which affects all Californians) has followed a long, winding path. The bill, working its way through the State Legislature (now continued into 2018), addresses this challenging, multi-faceted issue as strong feelings have been expressed on both sides. On the one hand, the bail industry, skeptical policing departments (particularly those in rural areas), and even portions of the prison-industrial complex are strong in their opposition. Many police officers are wary as a result of Propositions 47 and 57, sincerely believing that dangerous criminals could be unleashed upon an unwitting public, making the work of law enforcement officers that much harder and more frustrating.
Though these concerns are very real for those opposing this bill, the truth, as I have learned, is quite different. Those in our jails, who would directly benefit from implementation of this bill, are not those who were arrested for a major crime such as murder, attempted murder, rape, armed robbery, or other forms of violence. Quite to the contrary, many of those incarcerated for far lesser crimes have been waiting an interminable length of time just to be officially charged or scheduled for their preliminary hearings.
During the long wait, many have given up hope and are filled with a sense of hopelessness and futility and, as a result, a very large percentage of such inmates (many of whom have been isolated from family and friends) agree to a plea bargain by which they agree to go to prison (often for something they did not commit). They do this in order to avoid the possibility of being sentenced to potentially even longer terms once up-charges are added. The threat of such indictments are far-and-above what should be imposed for the relatively minor crimes for which they were initially arrested. This is a coercive tactic often employed by the prosecutor’s office in order to avoid the time and cost of trials.
Countless people, languishing in county jails for relatively minor crimes such as unpaid traffic tickets or expired driver’s licenses or possession of a small amount of marijuana, are there because they cannot pay their bail or even the 10% non-refundable charge imposed by the bail bonds industry.
Looking deeper, the fact is there is great profitability in the prison system as a whole--with California being no exception. In actuality, countless people, languishing in county jails for relatively minor crimes such as unpaid traffic tickets or expired driver’s licenses or possession of a small amount of marijuana, are there because they cannot pay their bail or even the 10% non-refundable charge imposed by the bail bonds industry.
Thus, we have a bail system and private prisons making inordinate profits off people who frequently should not have been in jail in the first place, bail practices which justify the existence and growth of for-profit facilities and businesses. An additional reality is that the preponderance of those adversely affected by current bail structures are the poor and minorities, victims of biases of which the general public is generally unaware.
Under the Hertzberg plan, we can eliminate what can now be called a debtors’ prison system—something the U. S. Constitution prohibits. Should this bill become law, a Judicial Council would be created which would establish (as much as is realistically possible) fair, color-blind criteria which would utilize risk-assessment tools for determining who should benefit from pre-trial release. These would be people without a felonious past, who are not a flight risk, who engaged in victimless crimes or crimes of minimal impact. These are not people accused of (or have a history of) violence and uncontrollable mental illness.
As to funding, yes, there will be additional taxpayer costs incurred by having to create and maintain the panel as referenced above. In truth though, many of the incarcerated who are affected by the lack of bail availability (which was never meant to keep a person locked up for a long period of time) will find they have lost their jobs while they were detained and, subsequently, their homes (when you don't earn money, you can't pay your bills). Many lose their families because of the stress and financial burden heaped upon them by current practices. There are further consequences: When the formerly incarcerated lose employment, they cannot pay local, state, or federal taxes (such as sales tax on cars, computers, cell phones, or college text books)--a situation that affects the greater community which generally depends on the benefits from taxes for services the government normally renders.
Inaction on this bill will adversely affect the taxpayer who always picks up the shortfall for a broad spectrum of welfare entitlements when human needs are not otherwise met (housing, food, health services, to name the most consequent), especially for those who were unreasonably held behind bars for far too long and for their families. An unnecessary taxpayer burden will grow exponentially if something practical and pragmatic is not done. Certainly, SB 10 is part of the answer to this pressing problem.
Additionally, those released from jails, who for whatever reasons are not beneficiaries of the benefits mentioned, will most likely (as many studies indicate) wind up on the streets among the homeless—another pressing issue. However, under SB 10, such a burden upon the taxpayer would be mitigated and more than offset in the long run by the lesser costs derived through the benefits from fairer bail rulings by the Judicial Council.
The bail system as it is currently set up is antithetical to what our Founding Forebears had in mind. The program as it stands is inefficient, unfair, and convoluted. No more can we sanction debtors’ prisons (described so vividly by Charles Dickens when not only the debtors but their families shared the humiliation of living behind bars for low-level infractions).
We can neither go back to those days nor retain the kind of unfair, unequal system we have today. It is, therefore, for all these reasons that I am unequivocal in my support of SB 10, this thoroughly vetted and outstanding piece of legislation on Bail Reform. I urge our state legislators, the governor, and the public in general to support this bill as well!