People Who Profit Off Cash Bail So Happy California Preserved 'Constitutional Right' To Cash Bail
On Tuesday, Californians voted against upholding Senate Bill 10, the California Money Bail Reform Act, a law meant to eliminate cash bail. "Well that sucks!" you are probably thinking if you are a halfway decent human being — but it actually does not suck.
While getting rid of cash bail is good, Senate Bill 10 was not. It aimed to replace cash bail with what the ACLU of Northern California described as "a risk assessment-based system that perpetuates racial disparities in pretrial detention, and it would grant judges and pretrial service agencies wide discretion to detain broad categories of people."
In other words, the plan was to replace cash bail with a very-likely-to-be-racist algorithm that would determine whether or not someone stays in pretrial detention and give judges way too much leeway to just lock up whomever they want, meaning that there could be more unconvicted people being detained than there are now. No one wants to replace a bad system with a system that is nearly or equally bad. Duh.
However! The American Bail Coalition — a group that thinks that cash bail and the predatory commercial bail industry are great and should stick around — is framing the defeat of Proposition 25 in the most grotesque manner humanly possible. In celebration, they sent out a press release that will make you want to want to set all of the things on fire.
I shit you not, they are actually trying to frame getting rid of cash bail as a thing "wealthy backers" want, and cash bail as a "fundamental right" for those accused of crimes.
California's Proposition 25 went down to a resounding defeat in Tuesday's general election. The fight over the state's move to a no-money bail system, which dragged on for four years, was rejected by voters despite major support by wealthy backers.
The measure had its roots in Senate Bill 10, which was pushed through by state lawmakers two years ago without input from the public. That piece of legislation was built on the argument that if a person arrested for a crime is unable to afford their bail, it is fundamentally wrong. Therefore, a computer algorithm should be used instead to determine who gets out with no monetary conditions at all -- and who is forced to remain in jail with no further recourse.
The computer algorithm was bad! What is also bad is the fact that 74 percent of the people held in local jails are people who have not been convicted of any crime and simply cannot afford bail.
"74 percent of people held in jails are not convicted of any crime"
But it gets worse.
"This is a generationally significant moment in the history of the Eighth Amendment. Voters have declared that they will not tolerate any effort to deny them the fundamental constitutional right to bail," said Jeffrey J. Clayton, Executive Director of the American Bail Coalition, the organization that sponsored the referendum effort. "It was truly an honor to fight shoulder to shoulder with civil rights groups and law enforcement against this misguided legislation. Voters recognized that while we don't often agree on criminal justice reform, when we do, it's because all of us consider watching out for the best interests of the people our highest priority."
THE FUNDAMENTAL CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO BAIL. Oh, sure! What American doesn't cherish their sacred and cherished right to stay in jail while awaiting trial if we are too poor to afford bail, while other people get to go free and not risk losing their jobs or custody of their children because they can afford it. Isn't that what America is all about? Surely, that is why the NAACP opposed this particular bill. Because they just really love it when people who are too poor to afford bail have their lives completely ruined.
The press release then veered back to the "Billionaires HATE cash bail!" argument, which makes absolutely no sense at all. There is no possible scenario in which billionaires would benefit from eliminating cash bail. They also pointed out that "public employee unions" were into it because they'd have more jobs "supervising innocent defendants" — pretending as if they don't know that the whole freaking point of getting rid of cash bail is to decrease the number of people required to stay imprisoned while awaiting trial:
The Yes on Proposition 25 campaign was spearheaded by several top-level public officials, most prominently state Senator Robert Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys). A cavalcade of billionaires hopped aboard the bandwagon, as did public employee unions eager to pocket union dues from the creation of county-level jobs supervising innocent defendants.
Of course, the attempt to frame this as a fight between a sympathetic camp and an unsympathetic camp veered off track due to the ABC not understanding that "private bail agents and the insurance companies that back them" are not exactly beloved figures and entities:
The effort for the referendum drive, as well as the No on Proposition 25 campaign, was funded largely by private bail agents and the insurance companies that back them.
"The bail agents and licensed insurance corporations who funded this effort always knew that the issue was far greater than just the future of their industry. It was about the fundamental principles behind every citizens' rights," Clayton said. "When you can overrule a bill supported and passed by the legislature, governor and chief justice by appealing directly to the people -- a difficult, if not nearly impossible task -- it proves that we were on the right side of history all along."
It doesn't really count as being on the "right side of history" if you do a right(ish) thing for the wrong reason. The people who opposed this because the risk-assessment algorithm was racist? They're on the right side of history. The American Bail Coalition — a group consisting of "national bail insurance companies who are responsible for underwriting criminal bail bonds" — opposing the bill because they profit off of cash bail? Very much the wrong side of history.
Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse