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California to End Bail, ACLU Not a Fan of How

State is replacing it with 'murky' risk-assessment system
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 29, 2018 8:50 AM CDT
Gov. Jerry Brown hands a copy of a bill to end bail he signed to state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, who along with Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, right, co-authored the measure, during a signing...   (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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(Newser) – California will become the first state to eliminate bail for suspects awaiting trial and replace it with a still murky risk-assessment system under a bill signed Tuesday by Gov. Jerry Brown, reports the AP. Brown's signature gives the state's judicial council broad authority to reshape pretrial detention policies ahead of the new law's October 2019 start date. Based on the council's framework, each county's superior court will set its own procedures for deciding who to release before trial, potentially creating a patchwork system based on where a suspect lives. Most suspects accused of nonviolent felonies will be released within 12 hours of booking, while those charged with serious, violent felonies will stay in jail before trial. The new law gives judges wide latitude to decide what to do with other suspects based on their likelihood of returning to court and the danger they pose to the public.

It's still unclear which suspects would fall into each category or how long they might spend in jail. California's new law is the latest development in the nationwide debate over bail, which many people say unfairly punishes people for being poor. Advocates of the California law say incarceration should depend on a suspect's risk to public safety, not the ability to pay. Gina Clayton Johnson, executive director of Essie Justice Group, which advocates for women with family members in prison, says she worries the policy will lead to mass incarceration. "This is a bill that has confused a lot of people because it does do something very positive, which is to end the bail industry. Yet what we had to trade for that win actually sets us further back." The ACLU has been in talks with more than 30 other states about bail overhaul and is now advising them to avoid using California as a model because its system won't ensure due process and won't prevent racial bias.

(Read more bail stories.)

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