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Referendum Puts California Law Eliminating Bail On Hold Until 2020

January 17, 2019 2:51 p.m.

GUEST: Jazmine Ulloa, reporter, Los Angeles Times

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Related Story: Referendum Puts California Law Eliminating Bail On Hold Until 2020


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Our top story on mid-day edition California voters will decide in 2020 whether to eliminate the cash bail system in the state the bail industry collected enough signatures to halt Senate bill turn a law passed last year that would have made California the first in the country to end cash bail. The Los Angeles Times is Jasmine. Yoga has been reporting on the issue and she joins me now by Skype. Welcome Jasmine. Hi. Good morning. Good morning. First refresh your memory why is there this effort to do away with the cash bail system here in the state and who's behind that initiative.

So this is a historic effort that started almost three years ago now by a pair of lawmakers are looking at inequities in the system and who is getting out ahead of trial these are defendants criminal defendants. They've been charged with criminal charges but they haven't been convicted. They have their cases are still pending. You haven't faced a jury and it's it kind of build on a national national efforts that were going on in the state where courts were taking a look at their pretrial programs and realizing how unfair and biased.

Many of these systems could be toward communities of color and low income defendants.

And so explain why the bail industry is against ending this this cash bail so the bail industry have been some of the fiercest opponents from the very beginning. They they say you know this is going to let out violent offenders on the streets. You know we are at a problem with people not meeting their court dates. This is going to exacerbate those problems. But but then they also have concerns about their their bottom line.

I mean these are their their customers people who go in and take out a loan to pay their bail. And a lot of times get stuck in the cycle of debt.

So then what would Senate bill 10 the legislation that Governor Jerry Brown signed last year actually do.

The bill would require all counties in California to create their own pretrial services agencies and then those agencies would be required to develop these risk assessment tools basically tech analysis of these these computer programs to evaluate who is fit for release or not who poses a public safety risk who poses the risk of not returning to court who will meet their responsibilities in court. The whole idea behind it is this is a better form of evaluation than fixed bail systems where people pay a certain amount based on the crime in their criminal history based on the signed by a judge.

And that often these people that are behind the bail effort say leads to an equities and who is getting out. So people with the money to pay can get out. Not necessarily it doesn't necessarily mean they're there but they're not going to break the law again or not be a public safety threat.

So you know as you mentioned you know instead of a cash bail system Senate bill 10 would require judges to do a risk assessment on an arrestee is Senate Bill 10 specific on how judges would conduct a risks of risk assessment of someone as they wait for trial and yet not not not not specific enough and people and a lot of proponents proponents of the bail overhaul people wanted to end the bet and the money bail system criminal justice activist and civil rights groups are concerned that there's not enough oversight about how these risk assessment tools are going to be used what data is going in there is it.

Is it going to lead to racially biased conclusions or improper conclusions. And so there's a lot of momentum push behind implementation. Right now the judicial council is coming up with regulations has been that will guide the courts and how they use these risk assessment tools. And I should say a lot of courts in California are already using them. I think I think it's as many as 49 but SB 10 was supposed to require all counties to use them.

And so how have proponents of Senate Bill turn responded to the news that this referendum has qualified to go on the ballot in 2020 it's kind of a mixed response and for some of them among some civil rights groups have been put in a sort of difficult position because they are against ending money battle.

They do not want to be associated with the bail industry's efforts. These referendum efforts in any way and yet they oppose the legislation because of the concerns over the risk assessments that I'm mentioning as well as concerns over the bill giving judges too much power over was released from the criminal justice system ahead of trial.

So they're saying this gives judges too much discretion to put and could lead to higher rates of incarceration for longer periods of time based on some last minute legislative changes that were made to the bill in the final hours of negotiation as often happens.

Mm hmm. And the bail industry has nearly two years to convince voters to vote in favor of keeping cash bail in California. How is the industry expected to appeal to voters. What might its strategy be.

I think they're going to focus a lot on on what I said earlier that the violent offender was getting released. Are these risk assessments really working. I think it's going to be hard again. You know the ACLU was against this bill. And right now it's saying we're against the bail industry but the bailout a bail industry can say hey some of the fiercest proponents of this bill turned against it. Why are people voting for it so that that could be a strategy and there could be and it could come down to that there could be further legislation to work it out and maybe not in not ending it in a referendum after all.

So that remains to be seen as well.

I've been speaking with Los Angeles Times reporter Jasmine Oh yeah she's been covering this issue. Jasmine thanks for joining us. Thank you.