California Voters Uphold the Right to Bail and Reject the No-Money Bail System and Pretrial Risk Assessments
In a stunning defeat, California voters shelved the State’s 2018 no-money bail plan, Senate Bill 10, in the general election after a referendum effort had put the question before voters. A “Yes” vote on Proposition 25 would have upheld the new bail law, Senate Bill 10, and transitioned California’s bail system by eliminating the right to post money bond in favor of detention by algorithm and supervision by the State. Californians spoke loud and clear with 56.2% (8.7 million) of voters rejecting Proposition 25 with a "NO" vote to defend their constitutional right to bail.
Voters told us from San Diego to Crescent City two things: (1) they wanted to keep their constitutional right to money bail in order to have the right to bail out their friends and family members; and, (2) they didn’t want a computer algorithm deciding who stayed in jail and who went home.
California Governor Gavin Newsome, who supported Senate Bill 10, turned out to be on the losing side of what was a double-digit defeat, as did the State’s Chief Justice and legislature. Said the Governor: “This sets back the entire cause.” He said the defeat was “profoundly not just disappointing, but devastating” to the effort to end cash bail in California. The Governor said that we, meaning end money bail activists, instead now face the “damning reality” that the defeat has “set back the cause a decade.”
The defeat of Proposition was inevitable, despite the deep pockets aiming to undermine the will of the people.
In 2018, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) abandoned criminal justice reformers and supported Senate Bill 10, which would have created thousands of union jobs across California to supervise innocent defendants. That is ultimately why 55 Civil Rights groups at the time Senate Bill 10 was passed actually opposed its passage, including the Civil Rights Corps, the ACLU of California, the San Francisco Public Defender, and Human Rights Watch to name a few. Joining the opposition at the time and in the campaign were numerous prosecutors and law enforcement groups who also thought the no money bail system was fatally flawed. But that didn’t stop the permanent elite ruling class in California who are deaf when it comes to what the public and criminal justice reform groups wanted, a right to money bail. They passed Senate Bill 10 anyway, only to then suffer a devastating double-digit defeat in the general election.
Download the Coalition Members of NO on Prop 25
The defeat was also a notable and historic setback for John Arnold, former Enron billionaire who is pushing his pretrial risk assessment algorithm from coast-to-coast by way of for-profit Arnold Ventures. As groups from across the political spectrum are pushing for an end to these algorithms, including the prestigious Pretrial Justice Institute, the nation’s oldest pretrial reform institute, John Arnold pumped millions into the campaign in a self-interested move to deceive voters to vote for Senate Bill 10 in order to then pave the way for the State of California to use his algorithm.
There is further evidence indeed that the end to pretrial risk assessments is coming. In Colorado, for example, on October 29, 2020 the ACLU of Colorado recently penned a letter entitled, “Dangerous, Misleading and Biased: A Letter on Pretrial Risk Assessment Tools in Colorado,” wherein they conclude that pretrial risk assessment tools are fatally flawed and should be abandoned. In the letter, the ACLU wrote, “We urge Colorado judges, prosecutors, public defenders and pretrial service providers to move away from pretrial risk assessment tools altogether.” Yet John Arnold, because he pays for his own research, bankrolls campaigns to support California bureaucrats pushing his failed policies, and keeps his algorithm secret and out of view of the academia can continue to claim that his algorithm is good, when other algorithms are bad, despite the fact that the same people that built his algorithm also built all the bad ones. The voters in California ultimately rejected Arnold and his bail computer – and other jurisdictions are taking notice.
2020 was a historic year for the end money bail movement, which has now completely fallen apart due to the fact that it is a failed policy. Amid outrage and concern for public safety, New York reversed its historic law and many legislators are pushing to tighten the system even further.
California voter’s outright rejection of the no money bail system was not a referendum of the “money bail system” itself, it was a rejection of eliminating a constitutional right – one that California voters decided they want to keep.