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Pretrial Reform in California

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Proposition 25 is a 2020 ballot measure that asks voters whether or not to approve Senate Bill 10, a law passed in 2018. SB 10 abolishes money bail and replaces it with a new process of determining pretrial release. The debate over SB 10 has been fierce, with proponents arguing that it will increase equity in the justice system and opponents arguing the opposite.

Our current research shows that the process introduced by SB 10, compared to the current system, is likely to release more people from jail more quickly but does not address existing racial inequity in release decisions.

At the same time, data and information limitations preclude us from thoroughly evaluating the impacts of SB 10. For example, we cannot estimate how many people are released or detained on bail under the current system. Similarly, we cannot estimate risk assessment scores or how they might factor into release or detention decisions under SB 10. In short, we cannot evaluate the most contentious policy shifts proposed in SB 10.

Instead, our research investigates whether some of those likely to be released within 12 hours under SB 10 are likely to be detained longer under the current system. We also examine whether some of those likely to be held up to 36 hours for risk assessment under SB 10 would be released sooner under the current system. To do that, we estimated current rates of pretrial release in reference to prior PPIC research and compared them to similar rates we estimated in relation to SB 10.

Key findings from our report include:

  • Most people who are booked into jail will be released without undergoing a pretrial risk assessment. Approximately 60% of those booked into jail in California—about half a million people—will be released within hours. The remaining 40%—about 311,000 people—will be held for assessment. Of those held, 73% will be held after being booked for felonies.
  • Many people booked for misdemeanors will be released more quickly under SB 10 than under the current system, while some people booked for felonies will be held longer. Nearly 40% of those booked into jail for misdemeanors—142,500 people—would be released more quickly under SB 10. Conversely, slightly more than 1% of people booked into jail for felonies—about 3,000 people—will be held for risk assessment rather than released within a few hours.
  • SB 10 would not address longstanding inequities in arrests and bookings. While 11% of Latinos and 2% of African Americans are likely to be released sooner after booking under SB 10 than under the current system, existing inequities in felony booking rates would likely lead to greater rates of risk assessment for African Americans than other racial groups. African Americans are disproportionately arrested and booked for felonies. All people booked for felonies will be held for risk assessment under SB 10. As a result, African Americans will be 12 percentage points more likely than people of all other racial groups to be held for risk assessment.
  • Counties will be disparately impacted, with additional costs unknown. The likely number of risk assessments will range from about 110 in Mono County to more than 78,000 in Los Angeles County. Like the Legislative Analyst’s Office, we cannot determine whether the costs associated with implementing SB 10 will be greater or lesser than the costs associated with the current system.

Whether or not voters ultimately decide to approve SB 10 will rest on a variety of factors, including the public’s perception of the fairness of money bail and pretrial risk assessment systems. PPIC will continue to monitor important issues related to criminal justice and racial equity as these debates move forward.

PPIC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. PPIC does not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it support, endorse, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office.

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