Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Bye Bye Bail

The times, they are a changin’ here in California. The state legislature recently passed a bill eliminating money bail in the state. When I read the article about the governor signing the bill, I immediately thought about how an entire industry would be wiped out in California. The second thing that came to mind: How is this going to affect crime writers who set their stories in the Golden State?

Even though California is getting credit for being the first state to eliminate the use of money bail for suspects awaiting trial and replacing it with a risk-assessment system, New Jersey did something similar about 18 months ago. There are still cases in that state where money bail is used, but they seem to be few and far between. So far it seems to be working fairly well for them. The jail population is down and so is crime. Here’s an interesting 20-minute podcast on New Jersey and its system:

From the articles I’ve read so far on California’s elimination of bail, what the risk-assessment system will look like is not yet clear. It does allow each county to decide its own procedures for who will be released while awaiting trial. The only thing I heard for sure was that all suspects arrested for nonviolent misdemeanors will be released within 12 hours of being booked and those facing serious, violent felonies will not be available for pretrial release.

Proponents for the change say that the bail system is biased against the poor and people of color. The wealthy can pay the bail, the middle class pays a non-refundable 10% to a bail bondsman, still an income shock for many people, and the poor can’t afford even the 10%. Proponents also believe incarceration should depend on the risk the defendant poses if they’re released. Critics of the bill say it puts too much power in the hands of judges.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, California holds about a quarter of the market of the $2 billion bail industry. Yep, that’s right, 2 Billion!

The law won’t take effect until October 2019 but, as you might imagine, the bail bonds industry is fighting back. They’re working on a voter referendum to block it. They have about 3 months to come up with approximately 366,000 signatures to put it on the ballot. If they get them, the referendum will be on the November 2020 ballot and the law will not go into effect as scheduled. Its fate will depend on the result of the referendum.

The change doesn’t really affect me all that much even though my books are set in a fictional town in Southern California. Since they’re amateur sleuth mysteries, I don’t really dwell on police procedures. Any change to the bail law would be fairly easy for me to incorporate.

I think it's more of a change for those who write books featuring private investigators, bounty hunters or detectives as the sleuth set in California. Of course, they could always set a story in the time-before-bail-was-eliminated to get around the problem.

I’m not sure how much it really will affect crime writers in the future, but it at least points out that you should keep abreast of changes in the law for the places you set your stories in.


Unknown said...

Very interesting.

Sybil Johnson said...

It is interesting, isn't it? We'll have to see what happens with California. Looks like other states are also considering no money bail systems.