Zero-bail policy approved in LA County for nonviolent crimes, faces opposition
The Los Angeles County jail is pictured. LA County ended cash bail for low-level crimes in an effort to pursue more equitable pretrial periods. (Courtesy of Levi Clancy via Wikimedia Commons)
Oct. 29, 2023 7:17 p.m.
This post was updated Oct. 29 at 8:37 p.m.
Los Angeles County ended cash bail for many low-level and nonviolent crimes Oct. 1.
The decision – enacted by the LA Superior Court – created a new pre-trial arraignment protocol that allows individuals to remain in their communities before appearing in court, said Ysabel Jurado, a community lawyer and candidate for LA City Council District 14. When deciding if a person should be detained, courts will assess an individual’s risk of leaving the community and their level of danger to the community, said Peter Johnson, a lecturer at the UCLA School of Law and the University of Southern California School of Law.
This policy will allow courts to determine whether someone is violent or a flight risk, rather than who has the ability to pay, Jurado said.
Some community members and politicians have expressed concerns for safety. For example, Helen Chavez, Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s assistant chief of staff and communications director, said Barger is worried about documentation of past crimes. Criminal history is an important aspect in determining someone’s risk to the community, and there is potential that tracking will diminish with no cash bail, Chavez added.
Twelve cities within LA County have sued to block the zero-bail policy, according to KTLA, citing that this change will increase danger within communities.
However, Jurado said there are alternative programs that can be implemented, such as community based support and monitoring, to mitigate the risk of people not appearing in court.
Johnson said he feels that bail system adjustment also emphasizes the presumption of innocence granted to citizens by the United States court system.
“Just because a person can pay … doesn’t make that person more dangerous or less dangerous than the person who can’t,” Johnson said.
Historically, cash bail has disproportionately affected Black and brown communities, Jurado said, adding that these individuals are often arrested at higher rates.
“Cash bail perpetuates a system that disproportionately affects these communities,” Jurado said. “It creates a two-tiered justice system where those with financial means can secure their freedom (while) others, often innocent, languish in jail simply because they can’t afford bail.”
Chavez said this policy change comes after the county and city were sued during the COVID-19 pandemic over the constitutionality of the bail schedule, which sets presumptive bail amounts. Additionally, Johnson said the pandemic caused people to consider the issue of overcrowding within jails, which this new policy will address.
Jurado said there is still more to be done in terms of making the justice system more equitable. Reinvesting in community programs – such as re-entry into the community and summer recreational programs – could help address why people get involved in crime in the first place, she said.
“The whole premise of our court system is supposed to be that someone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and so incarcerating folks before that determination has even been made runs completely contrary to that premise that we hold so high,” Jurado said.