Here’s How Abolishing Cash Bail Has Worked For Places That Did It Before California

Evie Fordham | Politics and Health Care Reporter
  • Democratic California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill eliminating cash bail in the state Tuesday
  • Maryland virtually eliminated cash bail in 2017, but proponents of a reworked justice system are not happy with the results
  • Several states and cities are moving toward reducing or ending cash bail 

California became the first state to end the practice of cash bail for suspects awaiting trial, but it is not the first place in the U.S. to try to reduce the use of cash bail in an attempt to make the justice system more equitable for people who cannot afford to post bail.

Opponents of the cash bail system say it lets people who can afford to post bail walk free before going to trial while others who have committed the same crime remain in jail, unable to work or take care of their families. California now gives judges more power to decide which defendants pose a risk to the community and which defendants can be released on certain conditions pending trial.

The state of Maryland adopted a rule that essentially made cash bail a last resort in February 2017, while Washington, D.C., eliminated cash bail more than twenty years ago.

Other states and cities are moving away from cash bail systems, too. Advocates of risk assessment systems, which offer an alternative to cash bail, say that reducing the number of suspects incarcerated before they are tried saves the state money, according to the Washington Post.

Proponents of doing away with cash bail are still unhappy with Maryland’s new system, which is actually incarcerating more defendants in Baltimore and Prince George’s County.

The number of suspects held on cash bail dropped from 61 to 50 percent in Prince George’s County after the rule went into effect in June 2017. But the number of suspects detained without bond jumped 14.5 percent, according to a June report by anti-cash bail groups Color of Change and Progressive Maryland.

The June report has similar findings to other studies by Princeton University and the Maryland Office of the Public Defender.

The increased number of defendants behind held without bond may be driven by the judges themselves.

“In a time where judges are politically accountable, there’s a fear you’re going to release someone who will go on to commit a crime so there’s a lot of public pressure to detain people,” Colin Starger, a law professor and co-director of the University of Baltimore’s Pretrial Justice Clinic, told WaPo.

Washington, D.C., releases about 90 percent of suspects on conditions like undergoing drug testing or reporting to officers, according to a 2016 Washington Post article. That is compared to the approximate national average of 47 percent of felony defendants held on bond because they cannot make bail, according to the WaPo.

But approximately 11 percent of defendants in Washington, D.C., are rearrested for separate violations before trial. Approximately two percent are rearrested for violent crimes, according to D.C. Department of Corrections data.

Examples of that two percent of cases include a man arrested for shooting someone to death in the summer of 2016 between his arrest for another crime and the subsequent trial. Quincy Green avoided being tracked by a court-ordered monitoring device by having it attached to his prosthetic leg and removing the leg.

In another case, a 24-year-old man lost his life when another man was released pending his trial for allegedly assaulting a police officer. Nineteen-year-old Jasper Spires stabbed 24-year-old Kevin Sutherland to death in 2015. (RELATED: Jerry Brown Signs Bill Making California First State To End Cash Bail Before Trial)

In addition to Maryland; Washington, D.C.; and now California, states including New Jersey have taken action against cash bail, as have several cities including Jackson, Mississippi, according to the WaPo.

Follow Evie on Twitter @eviefordham.

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