Some California counties are changing long-held policies about who must remain in jail while awaiting trial, allowing judges to free criminal defendants based not on whether they can afford bail but whether they’re a risk to public safety, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Public policy experts say the shift is overdue, given the crowded conditions at many county jails and a new law that is filling them with convicts who in the past would have served time in state prisons.
Most prisoners in California county jails are pretrial detainees being held because they can’t meet the financial conditions set by the court, said Tim Murray of the nonprofit Pretrial Justice Institute. So instead of basing a person’s release solely on their ability to pay a bail amount, some counties are allowing law enforcement authorities – often probation officers – to conduct pretrial risk assessments. The tests gauge a person’s likelihood of committing another crime if they are released and are increasingly being used as a tool to help judges decide whether a person should stay in jail while awaiting trial. Some counties use the assessments as an alternative to bail, while others use the tests to help decide the bail amount.