By Courtney Lam.

In 2011, California passed Assembly Bill (AB) 109, more commonly referred to as Realignment, which resulted in counties assuming greater responsibility for individuals that may have previously faced a state prison commitment. Realignment has initiated significant discussion and research surrounding implementation methods including how to address jail overcrowding. Several counties already faced federal caps, which means releasing individuals when the population hits a certain level, prior to Realignment. It has now become even more important for counties to manage jail beds efficiently while still achieving the goals of public safety.

Unsentenced individuals comprise over 60% of the jail population statewide. Decreasing the number of people detained pretrial can alleviate unnecessary use of jail beds. Such unsentenced individuals are presumed innocent and often times cannot afford the bail amount established to secure release. This population consists of those on immigration holds, people who cannot afford to post bail, and parole violators. In California, there have been strong reform efforts to reduce the pretrial population.

Over the past several years bail reform and the implementation of pretrial services have received significant attention. For example, The Little Hoover Commission (LHC) issued a letter addressing bail and pretrial services strongly advocating for a validated risk assessment and pretrial services in California. LHC heavily referenced that counties with federal caps already provide sheriffs the authority to release inmates once they reach their maximum capacity. In Fresno County, the sheriff stated she releases 40 to 60 inmates everyday. The Commission expressed major concerns with counties making decisions based on “past practice or gut instinct” rather than an evidence based risk assessment. Further, they noted that sheriffs are not comfortable with having sole responsibility for making these decisions because of its impact on public safety. LHC recommended implementing a validated risk assessment tool across the state to better assess who should be released. These risk assessments, along with the use of pretrial services, will help reduce a jail population that has not yet been convicted of a crime.

More recently, Senator Loni Hancock introduced SB 210, which has subsequently passed the Senate and is now in the Assembly. This bill incorporates the recommendations of LHC by including a validated risk assessment and pretrial services. SB 210 also expands factors that a judge considers when determining whether a person is eligible for pretrial release to include the history and characteristics of the individual as well as the nature and circumstances of the offense.  Moreover, it creates more agency involvement and collaboration by including not only the court and county board of supervisors but the sheriff, county probation, and other local governmental agencies to be involved in pretrial release. These agencies are responsible for implementing an evidence-based risk assessment, confidential pretrial investigative report, and supervision staff to ensure those released are complying with their release conditions.

California has begun to lay the foundation for criminal justice reform by using best practices that have proven to be successful. However, there is much to be done to ensure statewide implementation of a more efficient use of jail beds, while addressing the goals of public safety.

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Originally posted at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.