In his 1979 State of the State Address, Gov. Jerry Brown said, “Thousands and thousands of people languish in the jails of this state even though they have been convicted of no crime. Their only crime is that they cannot make the bail that our present law requires..”

Fast forward almost 40 years: Gov. Jerry Brown just signed a bill to eliminate pretrial cash bail for suspected criminal offenders awaiting trial in the state of California.

Senate Bill 10, which was passed into law on August 28, 2018 goes into effect in October 2019.

This made California the first state in the United States to scrap cash bail, and other states are likely to follow suit with similar reforms.

The current bail system in the state requires judges to set cash bail amounts for the accused based on a number of factors including public safety, protection of the victim and the victim’s family, severity of the crime, the likelihood of appearing for a trial or hearing and the defendant’s criminal track record.

In a statement released just after signing the California Money Bail Reform Act into law, Jerry Brown said, “Today, California reforms its bail system so that rich and poor alike are treated fairly.”

Sen. Robert Herzberg, co-author on the bill also released a statement saying, “Our path to a more just criminal justice system is not complete, but today it made a transformational shift away from valuing private wealth and toward protecting public safety.”

What does this mean?

The bill goes further than any bail reform in the history of the nation, replacing cash bail with a system of ‘risk assessments’.

It would require each county in California to set up a Pretrial Risk Assessment Agency to determine who is detained and who goes free pending a trial or hearing.

Previously, even defendants charged with misdemeanors and non-violent crimes had to post a cash bail as an alternative to jail time pending trial, and those without the means to afford bail were taken into custody.

With this reform, a person arrested for a misdemeanor would be booked and released without being taken into custody in most instances and, if taken into custody, would be released in 12 hours by the Pretrial Risk Assessment Agency without a risk assessment.

Misdemeanors aside, a person arrested on felony charges will be placed in one of three categories:

  • Low-Risk: This individual would be released with minimal non-monetary conditions on their own recognizance.
  • Medium-Risk: This individual could be detained or released depending on the rules defined by local courts.
  • High-Risk: This individual would be detained until arraignment.

The high-risk category would include individuals arrested for violent crimes, sex crimes, three-time DUI offenders in the last 10 years and individuals under court supervision.

This reform would mean that suspects that cannot afford bail do not have to serve unnecessary jail time, which wealthy defendants find easy to avoid.

California has been working to reform its bail system for years, and the process seems to have been sped up with a California appellate court deeming the cash bail system as unconstitutional back in January.

While on the outside the SB-10 might signify a step in the right direction for the state, it already has critics, with the ACLU and other criminal justice advocates pulling support and the Human Rights Watch urging the Governor to veto the bill.

While this is just California, widespread reforms to cash bail systems across the country might follow, with Bernie Sanders introducing a bill to end cash bail on a federal level in July this year.

This might just be the beginning.