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Did the court system make things worse with ‘zero bail’?


What are the lasting effects of policy?

Last year, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Lawrence Riff reinstated the zero bail policy. Judge Riff issued an injunction in May 2023 after six plaintiffs created a class action lawsuit against California as they argued the bail system favors the wealthy. The plaintiffs claim they suffered negative consequences because they could not afford bail, including missed work, separation from their families, and lapsed medical care.

“Being jailed for even short periods of time may cause them to lose their jobs, their housing, or custody of their children,” the lawsuit contends. “They suffer all the harms of confinement in a jail cell even though a large portion of them will never be formally charged with any crime, let alone convicted.”

Judge Riff explained his reason for siding with the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and why keeping people in jail on bail for non-violent crimes was counterproductive. “Enforcing the secured money bail schedules against poor people detained in jail solely for the reason of their poverty is a clear, pervasive, and serious constitutional violation,” Riff said. “Pretrial detention of presumptively innocent people based upon their poverty is neither intended nor permitted to operate as a form of punishment, but that is, plaintiffs say, what is happening every day.”

Now, several months later and entering the new year, many people regret the policy's reinstatement as they fear criminals don't fear consequences anymore. “Our communities have not been shy about telling us how nervous they are about this change,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors last week. “Crime victims who see offenders immediately released from custody are left with little confidence in the criminal justice system. I understand the need to respect the constitutional rights of arrestees. Still, zero bail can demoralize deputies and police officers who work hard to make arrests, only to watch the offender walk away with a citation as the victim looks on in disbelief.”

Charges like assault, stalking, domestic battery, and violation of a protective order will still require cash bail; human trafficking, battery on a peace officer, and sex with a minor will trigger judicial review. But for other charges like theft, robbery, or other crimes that don't involve assault-related actions, individuals will be cited and released without having to post bail. Now, police and lawmakers are trying to combat this issue as best as possible, and one way is by expediting the process of court dates. If an individual commits another crime while awaiting a judge, instead of going through the booking process, they immediately see a judge and prosecutor to learn their fate. While it sounds good on paper, law enforcement experts expect this to be an impossible task for the current law enforcement infrastructure as they don't have enough bodies or resources to sustain it. 

As of October 2023, California's rate for violent crimes was 125% of the national average, with 31,772 reported crimes. Property crimes were 38.58% over the national average, with a reported 103,171 victims of property damage.