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Money bail, risk-based tools, and options for Californians

Every day, Californians are forced to pay courts or bail bond agents money if they, or a family member, are arrested and do not want to sit in jail awaiting trial – well before it’s determined if charges will be brought against them. This is known as money bail, and increasing understanding and research reveal the economic and racial discrimination people of color and low-income households face under the money bail system. Along with the financial costs, when money bail keeps Californians in jail, it can carry life-changing consequences. Initiatives to end this monetary-based holding of people before trials and sentencing have gained momentum nationwide and in California.

State lawmakers took notice and passed a law in 2018 that effectively ends money bail in California and replaces the practice with a non-monetary, risk-based pretrial system. This effort seeks to reduce the likelihood of an individual awaiting their hearing or trial from being held in jail simply because they cannot afford to pay bail or a bail agent’s fee.

This fall – with Proposition 25 – California voters will have the opportunity to decide if the law ending money bail should take effect. A new Budget Center report by Policy Analyst Esi Hutchful and Research Associate Monica Davalos helps voters understand money bail, its effects on individuals facing the pretrial system, and what a non-monetary, risk-based alternative means for Californians.

Among the findings:

  • Over two-thirds of people detained in California jails have not been sentenced for a crime.
  • Median bail in California is $50,000, making the median non-refundable fee that bail bond agents charge roughly $5,000.
  • Money bail perpetuates existing wealth inequalities by subjecting communities of color, particularly Black and Latinx Californians who face inordinate levels of policing, to high costs.

As voters consider Proposition 25 on the fall 2020 ballot, it’s important for Californians to know the facts about our state’s current money bail system as well as the socioeconomic consequences for Black and Latinx individuals and families with low incomes.