In August of 2018, a bail reform measure passed the California State House and Senate and was signed into law by then-Governor Jerry Brown. Opponents to SB 10, the Senate Bill that outlines bail reform in California, is opposed by several groups in the State, including many residents of California, law enforcement groups, the activist group Human Rights Watch, and the ACLU. A veto referendum easily gained the signatures needed to place bail reform on the November 2020 ballot, allowing the citizens of California to vote on this important matter.
While many people admit that a cash bail system is not perfect, it has been proven to deter repeat offenses. Cash bail ensures that the person released on bail has a monetary interest in abiding by the terms of their pretrial release, in order to have their bail money returned or to avoid having to pay the entire amount of bail, if they have been released on a bail bond. Cash bail has been an American tradition since before the Revolutionary War and most detention facilities maintain a cash bail schedule that allows defendants to post bail soon after arrest, rather than having to wait for a bail hearing. This allows defendants the opportunity to get out of jail and back home to friends, family, and work before more damage is done to relationships and finances.
How Bail Works in California
Bail schedules in California are set by the court and a schedule is maintained at each detention facility. When a person is arrested, they have the option of posting the amount of bail listed on the schedule or waiting for a bail hearing in front of a judge. Judges overseeing a bail hearing have the authority to issue a greater or lesser amount of bail or to require no bail at all and allow a defendant to go free OR, on their Own Recognizance. A judge is not required to set a bail amount and is allowed to take into consideration a defendant's ability to pay bail when determining how much bail to require. Once a person has completed their pretrial period, regardless of the outcome, the bail is returned to the person who paid it, sometimes this is a friend or family member of the defendant.
The Role of Bail Bondsmen in California
If a person cannot afford the full amount of bail, a bail bondsman can assist them in arranging for a bail bond at a fraction of the cost of full bail. In California, the rate for bail bonds is set at the State level and in most cases requires a payment of 10% of the total cost of bail.
Bail and the LGBTQ Community
Being arrested is an understandably stressful situation for anyone, but especially so for members of the LGBTQ community, who are disproportionately represented in the jail population. Over 40% of incarcerated women and 9% of incarcerated men are sexual minorities, while this group makes up only 3.5% of the general population.
Male inmates who are gay are six times more likely to experience sexual assault than their straight counterparts. The rates of violence against sexual minorities are so high that many LGBTQ prisoners report being held in solitary confinement, often for their own protection.
When a person who is gay or lesbian is arrested, it is often very distressing to the defendant and those who love them. The threat of violence behind bars makes it necessary that LGBTQ defendants have access to immediate release, whenever possible. Cash bail makes this a reality.
If SB 10 passes in November 2020, the new system will require a “risk assessment” of every prisoner before that individual could be released from jail. This risk assessment could take as long as two days to complete. Two days is too long for those who face a risk of violence behind bars. Maintaining the right to cash bail is an important step toward protecting members of the LGBTQ community in California.