Time to Think Outside the Cell Block

Chair, Californians United for Public Safety

Over
the next three years, 39,000 California prison inmates will be shifted from
state prisons to local facilities under AB 109’s "realignment" plan – even
though most counties lack the jail space and resources to safely house and
supervise them. The state promises money, but we’ve heard this song before.

To
ensure the realignment doesn’t spark a public safety disaster, California
urgently needs to think outside the "cell block" to find creative new ways for
protecting the public with fewer staff and financial resources, without further
fueling local budget meltdowns.

One promising approach is post-conviction bail
for certain non-violent offenders, which would provide them with a very real
incentive to comply with court-ordered alternatives to jail time, such as reporting
to their probation officers, job training and substance abuse
rehabilitation.  This would help ease
jail overcrowding, provide the public with a new level of protection, and
increase the success of jail alternatives, at no added cost to taxpayers.

Bail bonds and bail agents have been a successful
part of California’s criminal justice system for decades. Studies show that
defendants released on bail are more likely to appear in court, and far less
likely to commit crimes while awaiting trial. Bail bonds work because the
defendant has a financial incentive to comply with court orders.  When individuals are financially invested in
an agreement, they are more likely to take their obligations seriously.  Moreover, because bond guarantees are often
co-signed by family or friends, the bond creates a network of supporters who
have a vested economic interest in assuring that the defendant behaves as
promised.

Post-conviction bail would offer the same
powerful incentives.  At a judge’s
discretion, certain non-violent offenders would be given the option to post a
surety bond, allowing them to serve all or a portion of their sentence out of
custody.  The bond would be administered
by a bail agent licensed by the California Department of Insurance, in an
amount set by the judge.

While a bail bond assures that a defendant will
show up in court for trial, the post-conviction bond would be linked to whether
the defendant complies with the terms of his or her probation.  If the defendant fails to comply, the bond
money would be forfeited to the county and the bail agent would track and
return the offender to court – at the expense of the bail agent, not
taxpayers.  Instead of draining local
revenues, post-conviction bonds would generate money for local government with the
occasional bond forfeiture, along with an increase in the number of premium
taxes paid by local bail agents.

Post-conviction bail would also help lighten the
load for local probation and law enforcement officers who are already stretched
dangerously thin.  And most importantly,
it would help avert the public safety disaster realignment could cause if
thousands of inmates are released onto the streets without accountability or a
real incentive to change their lives.

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