Freep Voter Guide
By Benjamin Heywood
What the Prop does:
Replaces cash bail with risk assessments for suspects awaiting trial
Who brought it to the ballot:
A political action committee funded by cash bail bondsmen (this seems counterintuitive, but it will be explained in the analysis).
Where the money’s coming from:
Cash Bail Businesses and Insurance Companies
The American Justice system was supposed to be unique. “Innocent until proven guilty,” tried by a jury of one’s peers. Anyone reading that sentence in 2020 knows this is not how our justice system works. 97% of criminal cases never go to trial and are instead plea-bargained. This fact is exacerbated by our cash bail system which acts as leverage to Prosecutors who can keep a person incarcerated because they can’t make bail.
In 2020 America, here is the most likely scenario if you are arrested for a crime: you either sit in jail or get out on bail, regardless of your innocence or guilt. Those who cannot afford bail are far more likely to plea, even if they are innocent of the crime. All the while, the Bail Bonds Business (which are overwhelmingly backed by large insurance corporations) is pocketing $2 Billion a year off this injustice.
Let’s start with the most obvious reason this is fucked up: if you’re poor, you sit in jail, even if you did nothing wrong, while if you’re rich and guilty you can walk free until a trial. This is despicable. Prop 25 allows us to abolish this unfair, un-democratic, profiteering off those who-can-least-afford-it system once and for all. For those who are saying, wait didn’t we abolish cash bail in 2018 under CA SB10? You’d be right. We did abolish cash bail, but the insurance companies, bail bondsmen and the Prison Industrial Complex have spent $5 million dollars to try to trip up the law by bringing It to a referendum. Don’t fall for it. Prop 25 upholds what lawmakers, citizens and justice advocacy groups already fought for and won with SB 10.
By replacing a cash bail system with a risk-assessment system overseen by a judge, SB 10 and Prop 25 seeks to ensure a far more equitable and logical way to decide who stays in jail while they await trial and who gets to remain free. However, there is a fly in the ointment here: risk assessment. Human Rights Watch recommends voters vote against Prop 25 because the risk assessments are based on racially-biased algorithms that will disproportionately keep Black and Brown people in prison. HRW says the original bill, SB10, was a backroom deal between judges, prosecutors and police departments. This obviously gives me pause.
Ultimately, Prop 25 seems to pit the devil we know against the devil we don’t. We can keep cash bail because we fear a risk assessment system will be worse. By doing so we are saying cash bail can continue until we can figure out a way to make risk assessment equitable. Or we can get rid of cash bail now, which we know is horrible for all poor people and disportionately for Black and Brown people, and begin work on fixing the risk assessment system immediately.
Lastly, voting No on 25 supports the idea that corporations can bring a referendum to the people anytime the state legislature passes laws they don’t like. That doesn’t sit well with me. It’s the people’s job to check our representation, not corporations. If we don’t like SB 10, let’s reform it! Let’s push our legislators to represent us by looking into ways to make the new risk assessment work the way it should, which is to reduce the number of people held in jail pre-trial. If it doesn’t do that, let’s repeal it and replace it with a system that does. But let’s not capitulate to bully corporations who operate what’s basically a modern day slave trade for profit.