Prop. 25 would eliminate cash bail or pretrial release programs with a new, unproven automated computer system.
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By Patricia Wenskunas, Special to CalMatters
Patricia Wenskunas is the Founder/CEO of Crime Survivors Inc., firstname.lastname@example.org.
Standing up for crime victims in California is no easy task. Often, the debates over our criminal justice system ignore victims who are the very people most personally affected by crime. Sadly Proposition 25 is just the latest example.
Prop. 25 proposes eliminating the constitutional right to choose bail or one of the many pretrial release programs in California counties with a new, unproven automated computer system. Under the proposed system, algorithms and predictive modeling will replace a judge’s discretion in determining whether a defendant is jailed awaiting trial or released into the community with few restrictions.
These are the same algorithmic-based predictive modeling tools that help people discover new music or television shows. Using them to decide who goes free from jail is a recipe for disaster.
Unless rejected by voters, it’s obvious Prop. 25 will be bad for crime victims, local communities and even for civil rights. That’s why a broad coalition ranging from our organization, Crime Survivors Inc., to law enforcement to the NAACP have lined up to oppose Prop. 25.
By eliminating bail and reducing accountability for defendants, Prop. 25 strips our courts of their most important tool to ensure defendants appear in court and hold them accountable if they don’t.
California has already had a preview of what life might be like under Prop. 25. Much of the state instituted “zero bail” during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Orange County, of the 1,635 defendants released under “zero bail” from April to August, nearly one-third were rearrested for new crimes while on release. Many individuals were rearrested multiple times after release, with one individual arrested six additional times.
Without accountability, these individuals are just continuing to commit crimes.
Results have been similar for other jurisdictions who have eliminated bail around the United States. A recent study by the University of Utah examined a 2017 pretrial release program in Cook County, Illinois, which is home to Chicago. The study concluded “the number of released defendants charged with committing new crimes increased by 45%. And, more concerning, the number of pretrial releasees charged with committing new violent crimes increased by an estimated 33%.” Equally disturbing, it also found a substantial drop in domestic violence prosecutions potentially due to defendants’ ability to intimidate their victims while on release.
I’m very concerned that Prop. 25 needlessly exposes victims to harassment from their perpetrators and even future crimes. There is nothing more traumatic than recovering after being a victim of crime. Prop. 25 creates a system where offenders can be released quickly with little protection afforded to their victims.
Replacing our current bail system with an unproven pretrial release program will also prove to be costly to taxpayers. New Jersey has a population smaller than Los Angeles County and spent $125 million in just the first year to implement a similar system. California will pay hundreds of millions of dollars to implement Prop. 25 even as state and local governments grapple with record budget deficits. All to pay for unreliable risk assessment systems that will use predictive analytics to make high-stakes decisions on public safety.
Ironically, these same predictive analytics have proven to enhance racial bias when used for applications for loans or credit. Prop. 25 will likely produce a similar result if used within the criminal justice system. So even while some offenders are released, African Americans, Latinos and other minorities may be disproportionately held awaiting trial for days or weeks even if they aren’t a public safety risk.
Prop. 25 manages to achieve an incredible feat. It makes communities less safe, even while enhancing racial bias and costing taxpayers. Prop. 25 is not progress. It’s a step backward that will make California less safe for all of us.
This November, vote No on Prop. 25.
CalMatters Guide to the propositions: Proposition 25: Abolishing cash bail