California Prop. 25 explained: Voters to decide whether to end state's cash-bail system

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Friday, October 30, 2020
Prop. 25: Voters to decide whether to end cash-bail system
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If Proposition 25 passes, it would uphold Senate Bill 10, replacing the cash bail system with a risk-assessment one that bases a suspect's release on whether they are considered a safety risk and likely to appear in court.

California could become the first state to end cash bail.

If Proposition 25 passes, it would uphold Senate Bill 10, replacing the cash bail system with a risk-assessment one that bases a suspect's release on whether they are assessed as a low risk and likely to appear in court.

"The money-based system will be replaced with a risk-based system that assesses a person's likelihood to return to court and respond to the charges brought against them while at the same time providing protection for the public," said John Bauters of Californians for Safety and Justice, who worked on the bill.

An individual would be classified as low, medium or high risk. Some people in low or medium categories could be released without seeing a judge until their next court date. Others would first see a judge and could be released under certain conditions.

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"If a person scores high risk, or if they've been accused of a crime involving violence or threat of violence or bodily harm to people a couple other examples like that, the prosecution could file a motion to the judge asking that the judge consider that pretrial detention of the person so to not release the person," Bauters said.

People who are booked and accused of a misdemeanor, with a list of exceptions, would be released within 12 hours without a risk assessment.

"The average person that may have been arrested for some low-level misdemeanor won't sit in jail for weeks and have to wait," said Sam Lewis of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.

Opponents, including advocates who want to end cash bail, say risk-assessment tools which use algorithms are a dangerous replacement.

"Often the data points are about, well, have you been convicted of a crime," said John Raphling, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. "Well, being convicted can span a broad range of crimes, and a broad range of circumstances -- stealing for food vs. opportunistic crime often get the same score"

Critics say scores can be adjusted subjectively and depend on already biased data.

"SB 10 increases traditional power to impose preventive detention, which means you're in," said Raphling. "There's no way you're getting out. There's not the offramp of bailing out -- you're stuck in custody."

Ivette Alé, a senior policy lead with Dignity and Power Now, said: "The arrest record of a young Black or brown man in South Los Angeles is going to look very different than an affluent person in Westwood, because these communities are highly criminalized. There's a strong police presence. And so we're just talking about arrest -- not even convictions."

SB 10 supporters argue that compared to other states, the risk-assessment tools would require more transparency and review in California. They would have to be validated within each local jurisdiction and approved by the Judicial Council of California.

"Once this is passed, we will have clear oversight and we'll be able to see the decisions that judges are making, which we can't see right now," Lewis said.

Bauters said an accompanying bill would add oversight, including annual reports on how risk-assessment tools are used, and on racial disparities.

Research by the Public Policy Institute of California says SB 10 is likely to release many people booked for misdemeanors from jail more quickly, while some booked for felonies would be held longer. The same study said it could not evaluate how risk-assessment scores would factor into release or detention decisions.

There's a lot of variables, and the impact could vary from county to county, so voters are tasked with weighing the possible pros and cons.