States across the country are witnessing the devastating effects of bail reform and taking action to stop it.
The Texas Alliance for Safe Communities is today launching a series of releases outlining bail reform efforts in other states that have failed, been rolled back or repealed, or undermined the criminal justice system in a way that adversely affects community safety and the rights of crime victims.
Over the past several years, a movement to overhaul state bail systems has spread across the United States, leading cities, counties and states to pass legislation that rids criminal justice systems of commercial bail and implement risk assessment tools in its place. This practice has led to a massive increase in defendants being released on their own recognizance, with many later failing to appear for their scheduled court hearing. The pitfalls of such reforms are plenty, and research shows that many states are beginning to witness the devastating consequences of bail reform on public safety and reversing course.
These are the stories in Alaska, California and New Mexico:
In Alaska, state legislators passed Senate Bill 91, which aimed to ease sentencing and lower incarceration rates, among other reforms. Within a few months, legislators began to realize SB 91 was actually making matters worse by signaling to criminals that they could get away with more crime than ever, fully knowing they would be released from jail within a matter of hours or days. SB 91 led to an uptick in crime in Alaska, and efforts to repeal the legislation were under consideration earlier this year.
- “State Sen. Mia Costello was a co-sponsor of SB 91, but she soon became convinced it was a mistake. The law may be new, she says, but it sent a clear signal to criminals that they could get away with a lot more mischief than before…It didn’t take much to convince legislators — and their constituents — that SB 91 was itself in need of an overhaul. ‘We’ve had a spike in crime,’ says state Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, who supports repealing the law altogether. ‘It really has not been a happy outcome.'” (Governing Magazine, February 2018)
In September 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 10 into law, which abolished the cash bail system and implemented a risk assessment tool. It hasn’t even been two months since the bill’s passage, and civil rights groups are confirming that the risk assessment tools are inherently biased and actually increasing pretrial detention rates. Now, many Californians are pushing for a voter referendum to fully repeal SB 10.
- “The law has exposed deep fissures within the criminal justice reform movement. Social justice advocates that had once championed the initiative to abolish cash bail mobilized against the final iteration of the bill, which they saw as having morphed from righteous to dangerous.” (POLITICO, August 29, 2018)
- “California’s new law, Senate Bill 10, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last week, abolishes money bail but actually undermines genuine criminal justice reform. Because it depends on risk assessment tools that use opaque algorithms, the law may increase pretrial incarceration and even exacerbate racial and class biases in the current system.” (Los Angeles Times, September 5, 2018)
And in New Mexico, Governor Susana Martinez has been at the forefront of the fight to repeal a bail reform amendment that was added to the New Mexico state constitution one year ago. The change led to a massive uptick in crime, as court rule changes allowed criminals to be returned to the streets virtually overnight.
- “Gov. Susana Martinez is calling on New Mexico legislators to repeal and replace a constitutional amendment and new court rules that she says allow dangerous criminals to be released back onto the streets.” (Albuquerque Journal, October 2017)
When it comes to trying out unproven bail reforms, other states have done the dirty work. The State of Texas should heed the warnings of other states before moving to completely overhaul a system, leading to potentially dangerous side effects.