As California’s county jails swell with inmates, liberal organizations are pushing o adopt programs that would let qualified detainees out of jail without having to post bail, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Pretrial programs that are used to reduce jail populations in San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz allow nonviolent defendants who cannot afford bail to continue living at home, to work and to care for their children while they await trial. The programs provide an alternative to the traditional bail bonding system, in which bail is set based on the crime a person is charged with.
Advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say the programs promote both public safety and justice by using scientific evaluations to help judges decide whether it is safe to release a defendant before they go to trial. The current bail system, they say, favors wealth and strands low-income people behind bars because they cannot afford bail. They also argue that a defendant who gets out of jail is less likely to accept a plea deal and has a better chance of an acquittal or a shorter sentence if they go to trial. Opponents, including the bail bond industry and some law enforcement and victims rights groups, say defendants pose a lesser flight risk when they have put up money for a bail bond and that pretrial programs pose a risk to public safety, because they do not focus on the crime a person is charged with.