The Other Side of the Coin: California Bail Industry Seeks to Overturn SB-10

19/10/2018

The Other Side of the Coin: California Bail Industry Seeks to Overturn SB-10

A mere 24 hours after Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Senate Bill 10 into law on August 28th, the California bail industry launched a referendum in an effort to suspend and overturn the bill to end bail in California.

Advocates of bail reform in the state including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) worked for 2 years with Sen. Robert Hertzberg to draft the original bill before it was revised and passed in August, leading to advocates pulling support and heavily opposing the new version.

A policy that would normally divide reform advocates and the bail industry into ‘for’ and ‘against’ has managed to get both of them on the same side, albeit for different reasons.

Advocates believe that while eliminating pretrial cash bail is a step in the right direction, last-minute revisions to the bill will give judges expanded discretion and power which could actually lead to more people being detained than before.

And eliminating money bail altogether would effectively shutter the $2 billion bail industry in California.

How does bail work?

Under the current system, a judge determines the bail amount for a defendant based on track record, likelihood of appearing for trial and other factors.

If the defendant pays the bail, they are released until the date of their appearance in court. This is where bail bond companies come in.

Let’s take an example: If a judge sets a bail of $200,000 for a defendant, the defendant can pay 10{e8daf67c74236e98f1856e68fa324b3e480990aa64f83052c11346b505a43684} of the bail amount i.e. $20,000 to a bail bond company, which in turn pays the bail.

The defendant is subsequently released, and if they show up for their court date, the amount is refunded to the bail bond company. And of course, they keep the $20,000 the defendant paid them.

The California Senate Bill 10 seeks to replace the current system with a system of ‘risk assessments’, where defendants would be placed into low-risk, medium-risk and high-risk categories by ‘risk assessment agencies’, which would further help determine their non-monetary release conditions.

Taking money out of the equation would take away the only source of income for the bail bonds industry in the state, affecting more than 3,200 registered bail agents and resulting in a loss of 7,000 jobs.

A consortium of bail bond companies across California with help from the American Bail Coalition wasted no time in filing a referendum with a view to putting the implementation of SB-10 on hold until 2020, when voters will ultimately decide its fate.

The bail bonds industry needs to gather 365,880 signatures from registered voters by November 26 this year in order to earn a place on the ballot in 2020.

Jeffrey Flint, spokesman for the campaign said, “We have half the normal time, but we’re going to make a full effort to get this qualified.”

The bill goes into effect in October 2019, but a successful referendum would delay the overhaul until 2020, giving the bail industry an extra year to remain in business and to prepare for a world where their services would no longer be needed.

“We anticipate and hope that the entire group of folks who opposed SB-10 at the end of the session will support its repeal through the referendum process,” Jeffrey Flint said.

In a normal world, the bail industry and bail reform advocates would lie on opposite sides of the spectrum. But with both parties vehemently opposing SB-10, they are just 2 different sides of the same coin.

For now, at least.