This is a huge win for criminal justice reform, if done correctly.
The state of California has been working for two years to enact a law that finds a better way to deal with people who are awaiting trial. At this moment, if you are arrested in America, you are taken to jail. After going through the booking process, you can either be bailed out or wait in jail until you can see a judge. Many Americans that live in poverty cannot afford bail, even though only a percentage of the amount is due to attain freedom. Many jails become overcrowded by poor residents who may be innocent, but cannot bail themselves out. Gov. Jerry Brown put his signature on the California Money Bail Reform Act on Tuesday, making the state the first to get rid of cash bonds.
According to BuzzFeed News, the law will come into effect in October of 2019. "Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly," Brown said in a statement. Risk assessment tools will be used instead, to determine if the detained resident has a high flight risk. If it's not likely that the resident will skip out on their court date, they will be free to go without paying a bond.
Opposers of the new law fear that the risk-based tools will only lead to more racial disparity. Their argument points to the fact that many risk assessment methods rely on biases, and if someone is denied freedom, they can be trapped in jail until they see a judge. "Risk assessment tools are prone to racial, gender, and socio-economic bias, because they rely on criminal justice data," stated the Essie Justice Group. "Since the criminal justice system operates in discriminatory ways — disproportionately harming communities of color, women, and low-income people — these algorithmic assessments can be dangerous." The Essie Justice Group is comprised of women with incarcerated partners or family members.
"This bill, unfortunately, replaces that flawed system with one that could increase pretrial detention and increase racial disparity," Jess Farris, criminal justice project director for the ACLU of Southern California, told BuzzFeed News. If the California Money Bail Reform Act is used properly, it can help those in poverty and will revolutionize the justice system. If it is misused, it could lead to several more minorities in jail.