In summary

I know how the predatory bail system works, because I am a victim of it. Its outcomes are predictably unfair, but Prop. 25 will change that.

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By Stephanie Jeffcoat, Special to CaMatters

Stephanie Jeffcoat is a policy fellow at A New Way of Life and an advocate with All of Us or None, a grassroots organization of formerly incarcerated people who advocate on behalf of justice reform,

Most of us have been told since childhood that a bedrock principle of justice in our free society is that a person is innocent and cannot be deprived of freedom until proven guilty.

That may be true for those with financial resources. But for those of us without great personal wealth – the justice system, through the use of money bail, finds us guilty before we even get our day in court. And we pay for it dearly.

This November, the money bail industry is asking you to keep a system that exploits poor families, but take it from me: ending money bail through Proposition 25 is how California can finally build a justice system based on fairness. 

I know how the predatory bail system works, because I am a victim of it, and its outcomes are predictably unfair. Those without a big enough wallet to pay bail remain in jail – treated, in effect, with a presumption of guilt – until the charges against them are resolved. 

For some, the charges against them are ultimately dropped. Many others simply give up their constitutional right to contest the charges against them and plead guilty; not because they’ve done anything wrong, but because that is the quickest way for them to get out of jail and back to their families.

That’s my story. Because of my family’s lack of finances, I was left with little choice other than to plead guilty to felony charges. During the time I was incarcerated I was unable to support my children and missed being there for their birthdays, Christmas and other special moments.

What I didn’t realize when I was encouraged to plead guilty to secure my own freedom, was that there would be scores of consequences that would follow me the rest of my life – making it much harder to get a job, rendering me ineligible for jury service, and otherwise permanently restricting my future.

Like many families in Black and Brown communities across California, my family has been exploited by a bail-bond industry that each year collects more than a half-billion dollars in bond fees.

If you’ve ever been put in the position of having to bail out a loved one, you know that it forces you to make difficult financial commitments at a time of extreme stress – a time when the choice before you is either to commit to paying a price you can ill-afford to pay or to allow someone you love to spend days, weeks or months locked inside a cell.

If you fall behind on your payment schedule, the repercussions are endless. My credit rating has suffered. Even now, the constant phone calls from bail agencies bring me anxiety every time I see their number come across my screen.

My family’s story is not unique. There are thousands of working-class families across California who have been similarly impacted by a bail system that uses them for profit.

There is a better way. After years of research and analysis, the Legislature in 2018 voted to replace the flawed system of money bail with one in which decisions about who can receive pretrial release are based only on fairness, and unbiased considerations of risk.

The bail-bond industry quickly raised enough money to put that law on hold until the public could vote to uphold it. Now that the decision is before voters as Prop. 25, the bail industry is spending almost $10 million so they can continue to exploit people – mostly the poor or those from communities of color like me – for profit. 

Prop. 25 will prevent Californians from having to face the ongoing financial calamity that comes with money bail. Please stand with me, justice reform and civil rights leaders, and the California Democratic Party in voting Yes on Prop. 25 to make sure liberty is decided by a system based on fairness – not the size of anyone’s wallet. 


CalMatters Guide to the propositions: Proposition 25: Abolishing cash bail

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