California’s Attorney General Gives Bail Reform a Crucial Boost

The push for bail reform in California got a huge boost this week when state Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced he would not appeal a recent state appellate court ruling that rejected state policies that routinely set bail so high that nearly two out of every three county jail inmates statewide are there awaiting trial or sentencing. The court ruled that setting bail beyond a defendant’s ability to pay is justified only when the person is too dangerous to release before trial. And Becerra agreed Tuesday, saying bail decisions should be “based on danger to the public, not dollars in your pocket.”

That’s the rationale behind a bill to scrap the bail system that the Legislature is likely to revisit after proponents Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, work out a compromise with Gov. Jerry Brown and California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. Becerra’s backing makes it more certain that the compromise will recognize the state’s bail practices — the harshest in the nation, with a median bail of $50,000 — amount to a tax that can cost poor people jobs, keep them from school or loved ones and mire them in cyclical poverty. Other state governments are moving away from cash bail systems, with good intentions and often good results. It’s California’s turn.

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