This seems like an odd time to be having this conversation so soon after we looked at the literally deadly consequences of doing away with cash bail in New York City. Be that as it may, Californians are preparing to go to the polls and decide whether the state should effectively do away with all bail in all cases. Does that mean that nobody will be held over until trial, no matter the charges they face? Not quite. But anyone deemed to not be a risk to society would simply be released on their own recognizance and expected to show up for their trial. And how will they determine who is in the “safe” category? They’re going to let a computer algorithm figure it out. What could possibly go wrong? (NBC News)
The movement to eradicate bail from America’s justice system will face a crucial test Nov. 3, when California voters will decide whether to end the centuries-old practice of trading money for freedom and replace it with algorithms that try to predict whether defendants deserve to be released before trial.
If the ballot measure known as Proposition 25 passes, California will follow dozens of counties, and several states, that have adopted “risk assessment tools” intended to bring more fairness to the pretrial justice system. Traditionally, that system has relied on the payment of cash or bonds to guarantee defendants will return to court — which keeps poor people locked up or in debt to bail bondsmen.
A victory on the referendum would come at a key moment for reform advocates, who are trying to harness public demands for change following the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
What George Floyd has to do with the subject of bail reform is a mystery to me, but I suppose you have to invoke his name every chance you get in social justice warrior circles. We should at least be asking the California court system where their “algorithm” will be drawing the line and how many suspects can expect to be released under this system. I’m guessing it will be quite a few if they are setting the bar as low as New York City did in the case of Bloods gang member Darrius “Blizz Meecho” Sutton. He was cut loose on the same day that he’d been arrested on attempted murder charges. He went on to participate in three drive-by shootings and the assassination (from the rear) of a rival gang member in broad daylight.
I noticed how NBC News chose to phrase their descriptions of the legal system in the linked article. They elected to describe bail as “trading money for freedom.” They further point out that poorer defendants can get stuck in jail for an inability to make bail or be “in debt to bail bondsmen.”
Well… yes. That’s why we have bail bond services and the entire bail system to begin with. If they don’t want to wind up in debt to the bondsman they simply need to show up for trial. Not to continue beating a dead horse for too long here, but that’s why we have bail in the first place. It provides an incentive for people to not skip town and avoid their court dates. The condition of “being poor” doesn’t automatically confer saintly status on a suspect. Poor people can engage in plenty of crime. In fact, they arguably do engage in more crime than wealthy individuals unless you’re talking about the sorts of crime you find on Wall Street.
California is already tearing itself apart, causing people to leave in droves. When we recently looked at the top reasons record numbers of new California gun buyers listed as their motivation for wanting a firearm, the number two and three answers were “worry about lawlessness” and “worry about prisoner releases.” But their elected officials simply aren’t listening to them. Perhaps more people should save up their money for a U-Haul get out while it’s still possible.