California legislators next year will make it a top priority to reform the system through which judges award criminal offenders bail, saying courts across the state are punishing “the poor for being poor,” the Los Angeles Times reports. Assemblyman Rob Bonta and Sen. Bob Hertzberg plan to introduce bills that will reduce the number of people detained before trial and address the racial and economic disparities in the bail process. Bonta said he sees “unprecedented” energy and momentum on the issue but predicted “a heavy, strong resistance from the bail industry and insurance companies.” Debate over bail reform has simmered at the national level in recent years. It often has been waged in court, with cities and counties facing lawsuits over policies that some legal experts say have turned jails into modern-day debtors prisons.
Under California law, bail is set when a person is arrested according to a county fee schedule and depends on the gravity of the alleged crime. To gain release, offenders must post the amount upfront, or pay a 10 percent fee to a bond company. Those who can’t afford to do so either can remain incarcerated up to 48 more hours before they are formally charged and arraigned. A judge then sets the conditions for release before trial, weighing such factors as whether the defendants pose a flight risk or are a threat to their community. Those conditions typically include bail, and lawyers and legal experts say the rules on how high that monetary amount is set vary by city and county, often allowing courts to keep people in jail based on their inability to pay their fees. Bail reform legislation has failed in California in the past, often because of tough opposition from bondsman companies that argue the current system allows defendants access to their civil liberties.