Cutting State Programs for a New Failing Bail System in California

Small Business Owner in Los Angeles County and Rosemead School District Member, Board of Trustees

This Tuesday, state elected officials from Los Angeles, San Diego and Bay Area will be voting on what seems to be a new California “catch and release” program while burdening all of us with more criminals on our streets and the loss of billions of dollars from many of the programs our children and communities depend on.

California Senate Bill 10 and its companion Assembly Bill 42 are being authored by Robert Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) and Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) in an effort to eliminate the use of money bail bonds. In its place, a “statewide risk assessment tool” will be established to determine, during the intake process, if a defendant poses a flight risk or a danger to the community, or if they are eligible to be released. This legislation would also require each county in California to establish a similar “pretrial services agency.”

Hertzberg and Bonta claim that the savings from holding fewer people in jail would more than cover the cost of the new “tool” and “pretrial services agency.” In addition, they claim that the cost of housing an inmate, which is currently at $100 a day, would go down to approximately $18 a day by shifting to just monitoring defendants.

My concern is that this new bail system program becomes another policy that will create an unsafe environment for the public and further passes the problem to local government. How many more times are we going to be told that a new government program will just cost X, but months later that number doubles, triples and quadruples? Local governments are hemorrhaging financially and our state is back to a $1.6 billion deficit.

I get it, there are people who make mistakes and find themselves trapped, thrown away, and feel like nothing. Bail can be expensive and it might seem that only those with money are able to post bail. But we shouldn’t confuse the need for a system reform, in this case Hertzberg and Bonta’s legislation, with the unnecessary need to create a new state, county, and local bureaucracy. These new programs will require service agencies and a “state risk assessment tool,” which may be applied to a million defendants each year (in 2015 there were approximately 1.2 million crimes committed in California), and in the process we are asked to believe that there are going to be huge savings from these changes.

Hertzberg and Bonta need to do away with all the false numbers and simply tell the public the truth. As a school board member, I am worried about what this new multi-billion dollar program is going to do to health care, social services and our educational programs.

I want to know who is going to run this “pretrial services agency” and how will they ensure that this new “risk assessment tool” won’t discriminate against race, a person’s zip code, or a person’s gender?

What are the start-up costs for these programs? What is it going to cost each county? And if a defendant fails to appear in court, will they require that police departments shift their duty and focus from apprehending fugitives and what will be the average cost of this activity?

In the two areas where they have in place a similar “pretrial services agency,” the program seems to be failing on a massive scale. With a population of just 670,000 people, the cost of supervising and evaluating defendants in Washington, D.C. is $62 million a year. In New Jersey, this program was just implemented in January 2017 and it is already costing $461 million, yet their population is only 8.9 million.

California’s current population is about 39 million people, which is 58 times the size of Washington, D.C.’s population and four and half times the size of New Jersey’s population. Based on these estimates alone, this new California program will come with a hefty price tag of $2 billion – $3.5 billion a year.

To make matters worse in these comparatively small areas of our country, Washington, D.C. has 12,000 outstanding arrest warrants and in New Jersey they have an abundant of outstanding arrest warrants that there is no hope of ever bringing the fugitives to court.  Instead, the state is compelled to forgive thousands of arrest warrants.

Which brings us back to my original concern: How much is this going to cost? And from what programs are Hertzberg and Bonta going to take and divert money from in order to pay, for what is likely to be a multi-billion dollar program? As a school board member I want to make sure our special education, STEAM and all the other educational programs we mandated to provide are fully funded.

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