‘$0 Bail’ doesn’t boost pub­lic safety

Times Standard (Eureka) - - OPINION - By Melinda Aiello Melinda Aiello is an as­sis­tant chief deputy dis­trict at­tor­ney at the Yolo County Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice, Melinda. Aiello@yolo­county.org.

Hu­man traf­fick­ing, child and elder abuse, sell­ing drugs while armed, pa­role and pro­ba­tion vi­o­la­tions. These are just a few “low-level” crimes sub­ject to Cal­i­for­nia’s new “$0 Bail” pol­icy, a pol­icy that re­leases of­fend­ers im­me­di­ately back into the com­mu­nity with no strings at­tached — no risk as­sess­ment, no ser­vices, no su­per­vi­sion and no guar­an­tees.

In April, the Cal­i­for­nia Ju­di­cial Coun­cil, the rule-mak­ing arm of the Cal­i­for­nia courts, en­acted emer­gency rules of op­er­a­tion dur­ing the COVID-19 cri­sis which in­cluded a manda­tory bail pol­icy called “the Emer­gency Bail Sched­ule.”

Bail is guar­an­teed under the Cal­i­for­nia Con­sti­tu­tion and the su­pe­rior court in each county sets its own bail sched­ule. The Ju­di­cial Coun­cil’s ac­tion re­quired most mis­de­meanor and most felony sus­pects be re­leased im­me­di­ately from cus­tody with­out bail with no pro­hi­bi­tions or re­quired check-ins with a pro­ba­tion or pa­role of­fi­cer placed on these in­di­vid­u­als. It is sim­ply a “catch and re­lease” pol­icy.

While re­stric­tions ex­ist on who gets re­leased under “$0 Bail,” the list of “low-level” crimes re­sult­ing in im­me­di­ate re­lease into the com­mu­nity is long and alarm­ing. The list in­cludes many gun crimes, crimes against the per­son, and prop­erty crimes. With some ex­cep­tions, those who are on pro­ba­tion or pa­role can vi­o­late their terms or com­mit new of­fenses and still be re­leased on $0 bail.

As a so­ci­ety we can never lose sight of the fact that nearly ev­ery crime, even those dubbed “low level,” has a vic­tim. Sim­ply dis­miss­ing a crime as “low level” di­min­ishes the very real and life al­ter­ing im­pact that these crimes have on vic­tims’ lives.

An­other im­por­tant is­sue not fully con­sid­ered by this pol­icy is that some in­di­vid­u­als have men­tal health and/or ad­dic­tion is­sues that drive their crim­i­nal be­hav­ior. When these in­di­vid­u­als are in cus­tody their needs can be as­sessed, treat­ment can be­gin, and they can be trans­ferred to treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties.

Im­me­di­ate re­lease pre­cludes us from con­nect­ing these in­di­vid­u­als with the ser­vices nec­es­sary to ad­dress their is­sues and pre­vent re­cur­ring crim­i­nal con­duct. This does noth­ing to pro­tect our com­mu­nity, po­ten­tial vic­tims or the of­fend­ers them­selves.

Ac­cord­ing to the Ju­di­cial Coun­cil, judges can de­vi­ate from the bail sched­ule and raise bail or keep an of­fender in cus­tody if they find “good cause that the de­fen­dant poses a threat to pub­lic safety.” Po­lice can also make such a re­quest, but it is solely within a judge’s dis­cre­tion to grant it.

The flaw in this ap­proach is that many of these in­di­vid­u­als are get­ting re­leased be­fore they ap­pear be­fore a judge, and the po­lice too of­ten lack the in­for­ma­tion and re­sources nec­es­sary to re­quest a timely de­vi­a­tion from the bail sched­ule.

Putting the onus on law en­force­ment of­fi­cers takes them off the streets and hin­ders their abil­ity to re­spond to calls for ser­vice which, in these tur­bu­lent times, does not ben­e­fit the com­mu­nity. The big­gest con­cern, how­ever, is that if an in­di­vid­ual is sum­mar­ily re­leased on $0 bail it is then too late for ei­ther a pros­e­cu­tor or the po­lice to get be­fore a judge to re­quest a de­vi­a­tion from the bail sched­ule or to have a bail en­hance­ment granted.

The first and most im­por­tant re­spon­si­bil­ity for any gov­ern­ment is to pro­vide for the safety and se­cu­rity of those it rep­re­sents. In these ex­traor­di­nary times when cir­cum­stances re­quire emer­gency mea­sures, we can­not lose sight of our fun­da­men­tal duty to en­sure safety and jus­tice for those we serve. It should al­ways be the North Star for pub­lic safety.

The $0 bail pol­icy is ham­per­ing the abil­ity of those in pub­lic safety to honor their sa­cred com­mit­ment to vic­tims and to the se­cu­rity of the com­mu­ni­ties they serve. We rec­og­nize that the pol­icy was im­ple­mented in good faith and in re­sponse to a very real cri­sis. How­ever, it is man­i­festly ap­par­ent that the pol­icy has in­ad­e­qua­cies and we urge the Ju­di­cial Coun­cil to con­sult with pros­e­cu­tors and other jus­tice part­ners to make the changes nec­es­sary to en­sure jus­tice for all.

As a so­ci­ety we can never lose sight of the fact that nearly ev­ery crime, even those dubbed ‘low level,’ has a vic­tim.

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