The state Senate began considering a bill yesterday that would eliminate the bail bond system in California. Supporters of the California Money Bail Reform Act (SB 10) say that the bail system is systematically unfair to poor defendants, and is solely based on an ability to pay rather than reasonable determination of flight risk.

The Los Angeles Times reports that changes to the rules governing pretrial release have been considered, and rejected, in the Legislature for decades. The status quo has prevailed each time, but now the subject is up for debate again. Advocates for reform have some influential people on their side – Governor Jerry Brown and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tami Cantil-Sakauye. Both call for reform as the existing rules are “unsafe and unfair.”

Senate Bill 10

The proposal on the table would require counties “to establish a new system to evaluate the release of defendants and would limit the amount of money posted for bail to the ‘least restrictive level’ need to ensure the person shows up to court.” This would give prosecutors the power to ask the judge to consider the flight risk of a defendant and make the safety of the community a priority.

While the focus has been on the want to make pretrial release fair for defendants who lack the bail money, it also will tackle the high cost of cash bail to local governments. A senator says the current system is costing governments between $116 a day in Los Angeles county because they can’t afford to leave.

What are the opponents saying?

Those against bail reform are saying that the bill would trample on constitutional rights and would set efforts back decades. It would also increase crime and cost the public millions of dollars. Opponents are not denying that California’s money bail system is broken, but do not see this bill as the way to move forward. Some positive changes SB10 calls for, according to opponents, include “improved data collection, expedited appeals, and a prohibition on charging defendants fees for court-ordered supervision.”