More people would be released from jail before arraignment if California voters approve a statewide ban on cash bail, but racial disparities in pre-arraignment release rates would still persist, finds a study reported by Courthouse News Service. The study, published Tuesday by the California Policy Lab at the University of California, finds that pre-arraignment custody levels will likely decrease if a law eliminating bail is upheld via the passage of Proposition 25, an initiative that has divided civil rights groups fighting for criminal justice reform. Researchers studied the potential effects of the anti-bail law on San Francisco and Sonoma counties had it been in place from 2017 to 2018. The reform bill signed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2018,ensures that criminal defendants will no longer have to post a cash bond to be released from jail while their cases move through the justice system. Its enactment was shelved pending the outcome of a referendum placed on the ballot by the bail industry.
The law favors computer-based “risk assessment” models to determine a person’s risk to the community. The algorithm analyzes a defendants’ past conduct, family and community ties, and criminal history to predict their safety risk and the likelihood they will make future court appearances. The California Policy Lab’s report focuses on pre-arraignment releases because the pending law gives discretion to judges and prosecutors over whether to hold someone in jail on or after arraignment. Researchers found that defendants eligible for release prior to arraignment would increase in both counties if the law is enacted; from 44 to 59 percent in San Francisco, and from 63 to 66 percent in Sonoma. While all racial groups will see pre-arraignment release rates increase under the law, the percentages are still lower for Black people in both counties.