Current Status of Risk Assessments- Rejected in California

California Voters Reject California’s Proposal to Abolish Private Surety Bail System and Use Pretrial Risk Assessments

On November 3, 2020, California asked its citizens whether to abolish the private surety bail system and replace it with a state wide risk assessment tool.  In a stunning defeat, the voters rejected Prop. 25.

In 2018, the California Legislature passed Senate Bill 10, to ban private surety bail and to replace it with a state wide expensive risk assessment tool procedure state wide.  The statute was not implemented until it was presented to the voters for adoption on November 3rd.

In a stunning defeat, voters rejected the legislation.  The item on the ballot was Proposition 25.

Community groups against Proposition 25 said in a statement after the election that voters “took heed of our alarms” about eliminating cash bail.

“We warned our communities that if passed, Prop. 25 would automate racial profiling, give unchecked power to judges and increase funding and power for corrupt probation departments,” said the statement by Lex Steppling and Dolores Canales, chairs of a No on Prop. 25 committee.

Prop. 25 created a unique coalition of opponents across all political spectrums.  The proposition was opposed by conservative groups and liberal groups a like.  Liberal groups opposed Prop. 25 because it included a risk assessment tool that these groups have all abandoned and no longer support.  Conservative groups opposed Prop. 25 because of community safety concerns.

Voters from San Diego to Crescent City made two points: (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.  After the election, Newsome said, “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 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.

Proposition 25 was also opposed by more than two dozen sheriffs in California, including Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes, who said ending cash bail removes an “important mechanism” for ensuring defendants appear in court.


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