In 2018, then-Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB10, effectively making cash bail illegal in California. However, the bail industry was able to quickly obtain enough signatures to put a referendum on SB10 on the ballot in the form of Proposition 25. If Prop 25 passes, the changes made to California’s criminal justice system under SB10 would come into effect, eliminating cash bail and instead putting in place a series of computer algorithms along with significantly more powerful judges, to decide whether or not a person should be released from jail before trial.
One of the changes under Prop 25 would allow those accused of misdemeanors to be immediately released from jail, while those being accused of violent felonies would be forced to remain in custody. Those who fall in the middle, including defendants charged with non-violent or minor felonies, would have their fate decided by a computer and/or the judge overseeing their case.
The arguments against Proposition 25 are many, and several human rights organizations are speaking out against it. Resistance to Prop 25 began to surface in response to the computer algorithms that are going to be in place if Prop 25 passes. The algorithm is supposed to “learn” who is and isn’t dangerous as more and more arrestees’ profiles are added to the algorithm. However, testing has shown that the algorithms are becoming more and more racist as additional defendant’s profiles are included. After careful review, human rights organizations are sounding the alarm as more and more black and brown people are selected to remain in custody, while white defendants are freed more often.
Another issue with Prop 25 is that it greatly empowers judges to decide who should and who should not be released from custody pending their trial. Empowering judges in this manner creates a lot of space for racist, biased beliefs among judges to cause black and brown people to disproportionately be held in custody. Without cash bail, defendants who are not granted their freedom would be held in jail with no recourse. This fact alone has detractors of Prop 25 worried that it will lead to more incarcerations – not less.
The algorithms have shown to be flawed, and empowering judges present a slippery slope in terms of judicial power. With cash bail in place, anyone who isn’t being charged with a serious, violent felony, or who aren’t believed to be a flight risk, can utilize the services of a bail bondsman to get out of jail.
It wasn’t long ago that California’s prisons and jails were overcrowded, and that was with a cash bail system in place. Once bail is eliminated, defendants, their friends, and their families will be unable to get their loved ones out of jail before their trial.
Prop 25 is not good for California, and will likely result in a higher rate of incarceration – especially among black and brown communities – than there was before. Vote NO on Prop 25.