Pretrial Programs Push No-Bail Release

Bail bonds were instituted as a requirement for release from jail pending trial to help insure that individuals charged with crimes (defendants) would appear in court. The amount of bail required has historically been based on the crime the defendant has been charged with. Bail is set lower for lesser crimes and higher for the more serious crimes.

Since California’s Gov. Jerry Brown instituted a realignment program a year ago, judges are sentencing some offenders to county jail who would have, before the program, been sentenced to state prisons. This has resulted in an increase of jail populations and, in some counties, overcrowding.

Pretrial Program Adoption

Some liberal organizations are pushing California and its counties to adopt pretrial program policies that would allow the release of defendants without requiring them to post bail. Those programs would allow them to be released on their own recognizance with a promise to appear in court, or to be placed on a supervised release. Those given supervised release would be assigned a case manager and be required to attend, for example, mandatory therapy.

The American Civil Liberties Union and some Democratic lawmakers are advocating in favor of the pretrial programs. They believe they would promote justice and public safety by conducting scientific evaluations on defendants to assist judges in determining whether it would be safe to release a defendant pending their trial date. According to them, the current bail system favors individuals who can afford bond and leaves those who cannot sit in jail until their trial. Allen Hopper, director of criminal justice at ACLU of Northern California, stated that pretrial programs would ensure that jails were filled with convicted criminals rather those who have only been charged with a crime. Advocates also believe that defendants who are released from jail are not as likely to accept a plea agreement in place of going to trial. They argue that there is a much better chance of the defendant receiving an acquittal or a lesser sentence if they do go to trial.

Pretrial Program Opponents

Opponents of pretrial programs, including some victim’s rights and law enforcement groups and the bail bond industry, think that the concept is flawed and that the programs pose a public safety risk. Dennis Bartlett, Executive Director of the American Bail Coalition, stated that his concern for public safety is that pretrial agencies would not have the resources or the incentive to go after defendants who do not show up in court. He stated that bail bondsmen do have the resources and the incentive to track them down. The American Bail Coalition is an organization that represents bond underwriting insurance companies.

California legislation encouraging courts to institute policies, including pretrial programs, was introduced earlier this year. The American Bail Bond Coalition as well as groups that represent judges, prosecutors and sheriffs opposed it. The legislation did not pass.

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