The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion authored by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis to analyze the County’s current policies on bail and pretrial release with an eye to creating a more equitable system that also makes more efficient use of public funds.
“Requiring so many people awaiting trial to post money bail not only contributes to overcrowding in our jails, but has not even been shown to improve criminal justice outcomes, and definitely has a disproportionate impact on low-income communities,” said Supervisor Kuehl. “Imagine waiting in jail month after month for your trial even if a judge has determined that you pose minimal threat to public safety. In the process, you may lose your job, your home, even your family, all because you didn’t have the money to post bail.”
The LA County Sheriff estimates that nearly half (48%) of individuals in the County jails are being held while they await trial, most often due to the inability to pay bail.
“Bail reform in Los Angeles County is long overdue,” said Supervisor Solis. “It’s unjust to keep people incarcerated simply because they can’t afford to post bail. The decision to detain someone before trial should not be based on their financial status, but rather on whether that person is a risk to public safety. We must continue working to make our criminal justice system more fair in every respect.”
The motion attracted broad support from law enforcement officials as well as civil rights advocates. LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said, “An analysis of our current system is very welcome as we seek both just solutions as well as the validated risk assessment tools that better determine who should remain in our custody for the safety of our communities and who should be released, pending trial.”
Peter Eliasberg, Chief Counsel at ACLU of Southern California, added, “Liberty for people arrested for, or charged with, a crime should not depend on whether they are rich or poor. There are numerous ways to reduce the number of people sitting in jail pretrial solely because they cannot post bail, including a system of automated calls reminding people of their court dates and establishing a validated risk assessment tool to give judges more information to make better decisions on pretrial release.”
Nationwide, more than 450,000 people are waiting in local, state and federal jails while they await trial. The cost of their incarceration is estimated to be as high as $14 billion per year.