California Governor Jerry Brown (D) just signed a bill into law that would end the cash bail system throughout the state by October of 2019.
In a statement following the signing of Senate Bill 10, Gov. Brown said that phasing out money bail in California was necessary so that “rich and poor alike are treated fairly.”
According to the Sacramento Bee, the bill would eliminate cash bail and instead implement a “risk assessment” scenario for arrestees. Each county will have its own agency tasked with evaluating the risk of felony defendants showing up for court dates. However, money will be entirely removed from the pre-trial process by late 2019.
Once the bill goes into effect, a defendant with a low risk to public safety and who is likely to appear in court will be released with minimal restrictions. A medium-risk defendant’s release is contingent on their county’s standards. And a high-risk defendant would remain in custody until they’re arraigned. The “high-risk” assessment will be reserved for arrestees who have been charged with sex crimes or violent felonies, violated pre-trial release conditions over the last five years, or who is already under court supervision.
California’s decision to end cash bail will likely save the state billions in taxpayer dollars spent on jails. It costs nearly $71,000/year (roughly $194.52 per day) to incarcerate one inmate, according to data from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office. 2016 data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows there are roughly 120,000 prisoners behind bars in California. And September 2014 data from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) shows that approximately 50,000 California inmates are simply awaiting trial or sentencing.
Every pre-trial defendant’s case is different. But assuming the PPIC’s 50,000 pre-trial inmate figure is accurate, that means 90 days in jail for each one of those inmates would cost approximately $875 million. But once cash bail is eliminated entirely, that money will go right back to California taxpayers.
Aside from California, the movement to end cash bail has also achieved success in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where District Attorney Larry Krasner ended cash bail for low-level offenses in February. Last month, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) introduced a bill ending money bail for federal offenses. Sanders’ bill also creates incentives for other states to follow suit.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.