The Slatest

California Becomes First State to Pass a Law Eliminating Cash Bail

An officer stands guard at San Quentin State Prison on August 15, 2016 in San Quentin, California.
An officer stands guard at San Quentin State Prison on August 15, 2016 in San Quentin, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In a landmark reform of the state judicial system, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Tuesday that would eliminate the bail requirement for suspects awaiting trial as an attempt to redress a system that unfairly punishes, and often explicitly criminalizes, being poor. Other states have taken steps to revamp their bail procedures to make it less discriminatory, but California will be the first state to eliminate it altogether when the law goes into effect in Oct. 2019, according to the Associated Press. “Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly,” Gov. Brown said in a statement.


That does not, of course, mean every suspect will be eligible for temporary release before trial, but the financial requirement will be lifted such that, in general, those suspected of a crime and eligible for bail will not be forced to stay in jail if they don’t have the means to post bail. The new criteria for release will be grounded in a risk-based system. Beyond that, the AP notes, what exactly the new criteria for pretrial detention will be remains to be seen. “Brown’s signature gives the state’s judicial council broad authority to reshape pretrial detention policies ahead of the new law’s October 2019 start date,” according to the AP. “Based on the council’s framework, each county’s superior court will set its own procedures for deciding who to release before trial, potentially creating a patchwork system based on where a suspect lives. Most suspects accused of nonviolent felonies will be released within 12 hours of booking, while those charged with serious, violent felonies will stay in jail before trial.”

The measure has been criticized by some on the left, including the ACLU in California, because while it eliminates the financial hinderance to justice, they say it does not do enough to prevent racial bias. “It cannot guarantee a substantial reduction in the number of Californians detained while awaiting trial, nor does it sufficiently address racial bias in pretrial decision making,” the three executive directors of California ACLU affiliates said in a statement. “Indeed, key provisions of the new law create significant new risks and problems.”