Violent Arrest? No Release

When a person gets arrested for assault, or even during a scuffle, they’re usually charged with a violent crime. Many times, people arrested for violent crimes are not violent by nature. Their criminal history confirms this. When defendants arrested for a violent crime have the ability to redeem themselves, they’re able to salvage their jobs. When they have the ability to get out of jail early, they can access their personal resources and take the steps towards recovery and redemption.

However, after bail reform, this opportunity will not exist. Regardless of the crime, if the court decides they’re violent—or, a “risk”—they will have no chance for release. This makes us wonder about the potentially damaging implications of bail reform law, and who is specifically affected.

Ambiguous Risk-Assessment Systems

California recently passed statewide bail reform law. There are 58 courts responsible for developing their own risk-assessment system, which determines whether or not a suspect can be released. Going further into the details reveals some unpleasantries. First, each court will inherently differ in their system of assessment. According to law professor at McGeorge School of Law Clark Kelso, “each court will decide how to handle the system.” This could mean a lot of things, one of them possibly being discriminatory practices.

Depending on the demographic contrast between a population and their courts, certain individuals face unfair treatment. One court’s risk-assessment system will differ from the next, resulting in discrepancies. Two individuals committing the same crime in different districts may face different treatment. For example, one may be eligible for release while the other isn’t. Because of this, communities of color are especially affected by this risk-assessment program.

Who It Affects

Bail reform law affects prisoners, bail bondsmen, their employees, and taxpayers alike. If it passes, bail bondsmen won’t have long before their field of work is essentially terminated. In October of 2019, thousands of people in California will immediately lose their jobs. In order to continue feeding their families, they will have to make drastic life changes. Clay Potter, a California bail bondsman, says most bail bondsmen are already just scraping to get by. He also argues that the new system will inherently cost taxpayers more money. This brings us to our fourth point.

Bail Reform Means Higher Incarceration

The likely outcome of bail reform law will be a higher number of incarcerated people. This is because a lack of accountability in a points-based system will result in a more conservative approach to release. This protects the bureaucrats and administrators who don’t interact with the front line of law enforcement. Higher incarceration rates lead to more bureaucracy—and public costs—than faced now.

The Reason: Money?

One of the supposed perks of bail reform is to close the gap between rich and poor. Bail reform will no longer require someone to scrape for money for release. It is intended to allow them—depending on the crime—to get out of jail early without paying a dime. However, while this sounds good from the outside, the aforementioned risk-assessment system throws it all off.

So far, poor defendants have the ability to make their bail with connections. Whether calling family members, friends, or asking for favors, they made it work and found the money for release. While this new bill may no longer require money for release, it could completely prevent certain people from any hope of it. That same poor person could face arrest, and, depending on the court, be deemed “a risk.”

The parameters of the risk-assessment system are not clear; its details remain vague. While the intent of bail reform is to further seek justice, it goes without saying that people will face inequality and suffer.