The historic bail reform legislation passed in California last year, described in a blog post here in August 2018, is being challenged by the bail bond industry. As described by the LA Times, a national coalition of bail agency groups has collected enough signatures to put a measure on the ballot in 2020 that would overturn the reform legislation and restore the money bail system.
Bail bonds are a $2-billion national industry, and there are 3,200 bail agents registered in California.
Pending the referendum, bail reform based on the new law – SB 10 – continues. At least 11 counties are employing roughly 40 different pilot pretrial programs to reduce the number of people cycling in and out of jail, and as many as 49 California counties are using risk assessment tools, or tech analyses that help courts determine which defendants are fit for release and which pose a risk to public safety or of not coming back to court. California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who helped craft the state’s bail law, has assembled a working group to evaluate pretrial programs and make recommendations on next steps now that the law is on hold, and Gov. Gavin Newsom earmarked $75 million in his budget proposal last week for counties over the next two years to implement and evaluate pretrial efforts in up to 10 courts.
“Too Tough on Crime? The Impact of Prosecutor Politics on Incarceration” is a new study by Ashan Arora, a Research Director at the University of Chicago Crime and Education Labs. The study is statistically sophisticated (sample: “Estimates of the effect of DA identity are obtained by using local linear functions within a narrow bandwidth of close DA elections. I estimate standard RD specifications of the form Yi = + Di + f(Vi) + ui (1) where Yi is the outcome variable, e.g. the number of sentences, Vi is the forcing variable, the Republican vote share in the DA election, and Di is an indicator variable taking the value of 1 if the county elects a Republican DA and 0 if the county elects a emocratic/Independent DA.’
“This paper explores the impact of chief prosecutor political affiliation on sentencing outcomes in the state criminal justice system. Linking just under 600,000 convicted defendants to their elected District Attorneys, I use quasi-experimental variation generated by close elections to show that Republican DAs do not affect the number of individuals sentenced to prison at the county level, but sentence defendants to longer prison terms compared to their Democratic and Independent counterparts. This translates into a persistent increase in incarceration well after DAs’ time in office. This increase in sentence length does not lead to overall crime deterrence, as arrest rates remain unchanged for a broad range of offense categories. Further, this increase in sentence length dissipates in the period following Blakely v. Washington (2004), consistent with judges in state courts gaining more discretion and limiting prosecutors’ ability to affect eventual sentencing outcomes.”
The LA Times reports on the slow implementation of AB 1810 in San Diego County, in part due to resistance from prosecutors. The mental health diversion law, AB 1810, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last June 27, is intended to steer people with mental health conditions into treatment and away from jail or prison. It gives judges discretion to order defendants into a pretrial diversion program for treatment instead of prosecution. If the person’s mental health treatment is ultimately deemed successful — the diversion can last up to two years — then all charges will be dropped. If at any time the judge determines the treatment isn’t working, the criminal case can start again.
In San Diego, only 2 defendants out of 19 – in cases ranging from residential burglary to vandalism – have been granted diversion. San Diego prosecutors have opposed pretrial mental health diversion in every case, contending the law is unconstitutional on a variety of grounds, including that it is too vague and violates victims’ constitutional rights. In court papers in each case, the prosecutors call the law “a dangerous change to the manner in which criminals with mental health diagnoses” are treated in the criminal justice system. And they also argue that defendants may have a qualifying mental disorder but lack a specific plan for treatment — which should disqualify them from diversion.