Unjust Money Bail System Needs Reform

Community advocates at ACLU town hall say SB-10 will help people stay out of jail, in their jobs, and with their families while they fight their cases.

SAN DIEGO – The money bail system in California is unfair and ineffective and needs to be reformed. That was the message from several community leaders and advocates during a town hall meeting hosted by the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties in Southeast San Diego Thursday evening.
Every year, California’s money bail system keeps thousands of people in jail before they get their day in court – all because they can’t afford the money to post bail and buy their freedom. The ACLU of California supports SB-10, the California Money Bail Reform Act, to fix the system.
Among those who spoke during the event was Tory Robinson, who spent nearly three weeks in jail just because he didn’t have the money for his bail, initially set at $50,000. Eventually, all charges against Robinson were eventually dropped but not before he lost his job and went deep into debt to pay for his freedom.
“I’m in jail for 18 days but that means a few things,” Robinson said. “When they took me to jail, they towed my car. So not only am I on the hook for bail, every single day I have to pay (the towing company). And when I get out, the first thing I do is call my boss and he tells me that: ‘Sorry, but we had to fill your position.’”
Robinson’s story is not unusual. Over 60 percent of prisoners in California jails have not been convicted of any crime. They are there awaiting trial or sentencing, said Monica Montgomery, an attorney and criminal justice advocate with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties.
“SB-10 will make it easier for people to go back to their jobs, to go back to their families, to not lose their transportation, to not lose their shelter,” Montgomery said, who moderated a panel discussion with Laila H. Aziz of Moms of Black Boys United, Paul Aceves of People Over Profits and Anne Rios of Think Dignity.
Because black and Latino people are more likely than white people to be stuck in jail while their case moves forward, money bail fuels already egregious racial disparities in the justice system, panelists agreed.
“Even if the charges are dropped, people are out thousands of dollars. They will never get that money back,” Aziz said. “And this is what happens to poor and working class people. We don’t have $20,000 in the bank.”
Research also shows that black people are assigned 35 percent higher bail amounts than white people accused of similar offenses; and bail amounts for Latino men are 19 percent higher than for white men.
The existing money bail system essentially creates a two-tiered justice system, said panelists, one for the rich and one for the poor. The California Money Bail Reform Act will shift away from an unfair system where your freedom depends on your bank balance to one with case-by-case determinations. SB-10 will prioritize services to help people make their court appearances while their cases move forward.
These reforms build upon common sense solutions adopted in other areas that have successfully reduced their use of commercial bail, such as Kentucky, New Jersey and Santa Clara, Calif.
For example, in Kentucky 70 percent of the people are released while waiting resolution of their cases. Of those, 89 percent make all their future court appearances and 92 percent are not rearrested while they are on pretrial release. 
California needs SB-10. The legislature should pass it and Gov. Brown should sign it.
(Photo attached. Left to right: Moderator Monica Montgomery, Laila H. Aziz of Moms of Black Boys United, Anne Rios of Think Dignity, Paul Aceves of People Over Profits and Tory Robinson. Credit Edward Sifuentes.)