Lawmakers Should Think Carefully Before Leashing ‘The Dog’
Crime in California is on the rise and the solution offered by Sacramento is … releasing suspected criminals back into the community without requiring them to post bail?
Assembly Bill 42 would, if passed and signed, authorize the pretrial release of an “arrested person,” and “set a time and place for the appearance of the arrested person before the appropriate court and give notice thereof” without the “arrested person” guaranteeing his or her appearance with a surety bond. Suspects “arrested and booked into jail for a violent felony” will first have to appear “before a judge or a magistrate for a hearing” prior to them being “considered for release.”
The law would also transfer to pretrial-service agencies, and away from judges, the authority to determine how much risk the suspects pose to the community.
AB42, the California Money Bail Reform Act, is being peddled as the needed reform of a system that discriminates against the poor. The Legislative Counsel’s Digest says “this bill would state the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation to safely reduce the number of people detained pretrial, while addressing racial and economic disparities in the pretrial system, to ensure that people are not held in pretrial detention simply because of their inability to afford money bail.”
It’s not quite a get-out-of-jail-free card, but Lipstick Bail Bonds says it “has set the stage to make California the fugitive capital of the world.”
Dog the Bounty Hunter, also known as Duane Chapman, said California’s system needs to be modernized, but pointed out an unintended consequence of the law. It could “let lawbreakers go home and say they’re poor.”
“It’s not the poor man who runs” anyway, said Chapman, “he has no money to run, it’s just an excuse for someone to say that.”
In addition to increasing the risk of flight and the danger to a community a non-bonded suspect would pose, the “reform” would harm an industry. A 2014 Towson University study that looked at a similar proposal that became law on Jan. 1 in New Jersey found that the “loss in commercial bail usage will be manifested in the loss of commercial bail employees and, eventually, the closing of commercial bonding firms.”
“We’re basically out of business,” Kirk Shaw, whose family operates a bond company in Hackensack, N.J., told the New York Times a month after the new system went into effect.
According to the study, the financial problems will filter from the bail industry into the rest of the economy. For every 10 employees lost in the industry, seven additional jobs would be lost, there would be a $2.1 million loss in economic output, and $600,000 in wages would be forgone.
Taxpayers could also to take a hit. The report said the pretrial service unit would cost taxpayers $215 million a year. Since California’s population is about four and a half times that of New Jersey’s, the cost here could be close to $1 billion a year if you extrapolate accordingly.
The concept of bail has been around for centuries, its roots traced back to medieval England. It was instituted, according to aboutbail.com, “to balance the playing field among the rich, middle, and poor classes when individuals were accused of a crime” — which sounds much like the arguments that reform supporters are making. Previously, “only those who had enough money and property to post a security were lucky enough to secure temporary release pending their trials.”
Is it possible that only 21st century California could botch a system that’s worked well for centuries?
After falling for decades, crime in California is ticking upward. Violent crimes increased 10 percent in 2015 over 2014, according to the state attorney general. Homicides jumped 9.7 percent, robbery and aggravated assault by increased more than 8 percent, and crimes against property climbed 8.1 percent.
In Los Angeles, police say violent crime rose in 2016 for the third straight year. The San Jose Mercury News reported in January that that city had the most homicides it’s had in a quarter of a century last year as violent crime grew 15 percent.
Will AB42 and identical Senate Bill 10 increase these numbers if enacted? Before lawmakers turn California’s bail system upside down, they need to watch New Jersey’s experiment. A little more than one month into the new system there have already been some “questionable” releases, New Jersey radio station WKXW reports. The incidents have increased since then. Belleville, N.J., Mayor Raymond Kimble says the system is “letting too many people out and then they’re committing more crimes.”
It would irresponsible for Sacramento to act until it knows how its actions will impact public safety.