Bail Reforms

Exaggeration Must Not Drive Bail Reform

Bail reform has become a hotbed of debate, even if it’s not as glorified in the news as some other social topics.

Defendants facing criminal charges are, nonetheless, at the focal point of an issue that has fueled heated arguments on both sides. While it’s understandable that each side wants to make their points with as irrefutable a point as possible, it seems some defendant advocates are inflating the facts to suit their side.

Are High Bails The Same as No Bail?

That seems to be the indication in a claim made by California State Senator Robert Hertzberg when he introduced the recent Senate Bill 10. His assertion was that the majority of individuals confined in jail to await their trials are first-time offenders from poor socioeconomic backgrounds with no means to pay their bail, even for misdemeanor offenses. Senator Hertzberg seems to ignore the fact that there is any number of bail bonds services available to defendants to help correct this oversight of the justice system.

Instead, the bill throws out a statistic that seems baseless for its lack of citation. It simply shares the information out of context.
“[i]n 2016, the percentage of people in California jails awaiting trial or sentencing rose to 66 percent.”

In fact, the Judicial Council previously released its own report on the issues surrounding bail reform. That document also mentioned that a 66% of defendants couldn’t afford bail, but the Judicial Council followed that up by adding that there was no real way to confirm that ratio. In detailing the stipulations for the current system of setting bail and offering suggestions for reform, this 108-page document went as far as to conclude that the cited 66 percentile may not be an accurate assessment at all.

The Judicial Council did cite some rates for offenders unable to post-jail, who therefore remained in lockup while awaiting trial. Those rates were: Fresno (15%), San Francisco (53%), and San Mateo (59%). In Los Angeles, which accounts for a third of the criminal activity in California, that rate was well beneath 66% with a rate of approximately 26%.

Los Angeles Numbers Don’t Support Claims Made in Senate Bill 10

As of March 2017, the inmate population reported by the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department was 16,894. Of that number, only 6,988, or 41%, were in custody to await trial, but even that number doesn’t differentiate between those inmates eligible for bail and those being held without bail. When further dividing the figure based on that criteria, the figures drop significantly. 2,555 inmates are being held without bail, leaving that 26% (or 4,433) of inmates who are eligible for bail.

An even closer look at the 26% of offenders still being held reveals that these are not low-level criminals with insufficient means to afford bail. In fact, 91% of them are being held on felony charges. 62% are also being held on charges for having allegedly committed violent crimes, including sex offenses, or for violating weapons possession laws.

Drug offenders, the majority of whom have posted bail, make up only .7% of the pretrial arrests, while offenders of minor, non-violent crimes make up 1.7%. Misdemeanor offenders constitute the lowest number of offenders in custody, just 1% of the total pre-trial inmate population. Of the 15,671 arrests made, only 606 remain in custody awaiting trial. Of that number, 349 are eligible for bail, suggesting that exorbitant bail demands may not be the motivating factor after all.

As a matter of fact, bail is not set without providing opportunities for the defendant to argue his or her case. The defendant is provided an attorney and granted a bail hearing to determine the amount of bail to be set, suggesting this part of a criminal case is just as impartial as any other portion of the process. In cases where bail is denied, it’s only because the court deems the defendant a danger to the public. Bail may also be denied if there’s a risk that the accused will flee the jurisdiction in an attempt to escape prosecution.

Certainly, there are cases where the defendant cannot afford his or her bail. In those circumstances, consulting a bail bonds service may be the individual’s only choice. While there is a definite need for bail reform, inflating the problems surrounding the issue only serves to complicate matters and confuse the true injustices bail reform seeks to address.

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