Skip to main content

The Governor of California Signs a Bill Ending Money Bail

California Governor Jerry Brown on Tuesday signed legislation that ended money bail in California.

The bill abolishes paying money as a condition of release from jail pre-trial. The money-bail system has been consistently criticized as unfair to low-income people: Unable to afford bail, poorer people were forced to spend more time in prison pre-trial.

Hoping to resolve these inequalities—and compelled by years of activism—state legislators put forward legislation that sought to replace money bail with "risk assessment strategies" in all 58 of California's counties. Brown on Tuesday claimed that the bill ensured that "rich and poor alike are treated fairly."

Risk assessment, as opposed to money bail, represents a variety of strategies courts can use to try to impartially judge the merits of keeping a defendant imprisoned pre-trial (for instance, by considering whether the defendant is a flight risk or threat to public safety).

Originally buoyed by broad support, the legislation lost many key supporters in the final days of its amendment process. In response to amendments that gave judges broad latitude to determine risk, many original public supporters of the bill withdrew their support.

A week before Brown signed the bill, Erwin Chemerinskythe dean of the University of California–Berkeley's law school, wrote an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee opposing the bill he had once championed. Though he said he supported ending money bail, Chemerinsky argued that the amended bill would actually increase the number of people forced to stay in prison before their trials and could augment racial injustice. He contended that the bill's language would encourage judges to be overly cautious in extending detentions and could enable their pre-existing racial biases.

Though the bill is steeped in controversy, many public figures praised its passage on Tuesday. "A person's checking account balance should never determine how they are treated under the law," Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement.