HIDDEN COSTS OF BAIL REFORM: HOW BAIL IN CALIFORNIA COULD GO FROM HURTING POOR DEFENDANTS TO HURTING POOR COUNTIES
By Katherine Carey*
Bail reform has become a popular topic within criminal justice reform, even capturing the attention of such notable celebrities as Jay Z1 and John Legend.2 Some states like Illinois Kentucky, Oregon, and Wisconsin abolished commercial bail entirely starting in the 1970s.3 Washington, D.C., began moving away from cash bail in the early 1990s and, in 2017, Washington, D.C. courts released 94% of defendants without cash bail.4 Some states such as New Mexico and New Jersey have just recently altered their bail systems to reduce reliance on money bail.5
Yet in August 2018, California became the first state to pass a law fully abolishing money bail.6 Although not everyone agreed on the final bill, district attorneys,7 public officials, and criminal justice reform groups8 managed to unite around the general goal of abolishing money bail to create a more fair and equal pretrial detention system that holds defendants based on their risk to safety instead of their ability to pay. While those groups remain in agreement on that overall goal, they differ on the way forward in light of recent developments.
A Brief Overview of Bail Reform in California