Home Politics Cash bail must be eliminated, but ‘risk assessments’ aren’t the tool to do it

Cash bail must be eliminated, but ‘risk assessments’ aren’t the tool to do it

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This week, California became the latest state to adopt legislation designed to reduce the tragic injustices of its cash bail system. Unfortunately, its well-intentioned effort will exacerbate rather than alleviate the very injustices it was designed to cure.

Central to every American’s understanding of justice is that people are presumed to be innocent, and that holding innocent people in jail before they’ve been tried (or found guilty of any crime) is a bad idea. the problem with cash bail is that it created a two-tiered system of justice — one for the rich and one for everybody else, effectively putting a price tag on that presumption. Hundreds of thousands of low-income Americans are forced to sit in jail because they are too poor to afford bail and often plead guilty just to get out.

California’s new system eliminates cash bail but replaces it with two things: expanded discretion for judges and a system of “risk assessments,” which assign a score to people to determine who is eligible for release before trial and who should be held, not on bail, but without any hope of release at all.

Rather than reduce the number of innocent people sitting in jail cells, the new system has the potential to increase it, while entrenching racial disparities and hiding them behind the rhetoric of science. Taken together, these factors could create a system that is worse than what California had, in the heartbreaking name of bail reform.

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