Governor Brown’s signature made it official today: beginning in October 2019, if you are arrested and charged with a crime in California, your pretrial level of freedom will not be determined by your level of wealth. …In theory.
California will become the first state in the nation to completely end cash bail after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a sweeping reform bill Tuesday. It will give judges far more power over who gets released from jail as they await trial.
“Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly,” Brown said[…]
It’s certainly removing money as an official part of the equation.
Under Senate Bill 10, Californians arrested and charged with a crime won’t be given the option of putting up money or borrowing it from a bail bond agent. Instead, county courts will use risk assessment tools to help judges determine if a defendant can be safety released before trial.[…]
It’s a huge shift, and one that gives judges far more power over pretrial release decisions.
While nearly everyone involved in the bail fight in California, save for the bail industry, agreed that the current system is unfair and often punishes poor defendants while releasing wealthy defendants even if they pose a public safety, not everyone who supported bail reform is on board with the bill. Some civil rights groups that had championed the issue of bail reform [including the California ACLU] oppose the bill, saying it now gives too much power to judges who may have their own biases.
And not just power to judges. The use of ‘risk assessment tools’ brings to mind ProPublica’s controversial 2016 report on apparent racial bias in COMPAS recidivism-risk software.* And just like the judges, these tools, whether software or some other standardized rubric, are being given a lot of power.
My own internal scorecard sees: a good cause, Republicans opposed, Democrats in favor, and law enforcement officially neutral. That’s something I would usually support. But then, I also usually like the ACLU’s opinions, and such scorecards aren’t always right. What do you folks think?
*Good article on that reporting and the ensuing dispute, plus the overall topic of algorithm bias, at the MIT Technology Review. tl;dr: Impartial systems are by their nature biased. One must take care to make sure the included biases are the intended ones, and that the intended ones are just.