Santa Monica Considers Joining Suit Against Zero Cash Bail

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Tonight, the City Council will vote on whether or not to join a lawsuit against a new-countywide policy that aims to reduce economic disparities in who can, and cannot, be imprisoned while awaiting trial. The Pre-Arraignment Release Protocols (PARP) also referred to as “cash-free bail” or “zero cash bail” has been pillared in conservative press and has led to thousands of calls into county supervisors and other elected officials both opposing and supporting the program. The PARP system went into place on October 1.

Opponents of PARP claim that it will lead to fewer people arriving for their trials and increased crime as more people are returned to the streets while awaiting trial than awaiting trial in jail. So how does it work?

The idea behind PARP began because many people view a system where only people of higher economic means can pay cash to get out of jail before a trial as unfair. The new system is based not on one’s ability to pay money, but on the risk an offender presents to public safety or the possibility the person might fail to appear in court.

Under PARP, Santa Monica police officers have three choices when making an arrest or issuing a citation. They can cite the suspect and release them, they can take them to jail for processing and then release them with a citation under their recognizance or they can go in front of an on-call judge for immediate review if they believe there are special circumstances.

Councilmember Phil Brock introduced the motion for the Council to consider joining the suit. Brock who has been a vocal critic of the policy when it only applied to suspects detained by Sheriffs or brought up on charges by L.A. County. The Council will vote on whether or not to join a lawsuit asking for an injunction to the system that has already been filed by Arcadia, Artesia, Covina, Downey, Glendora, Industry, Lakewood, La Verne, Palmdale, Santa Fe Springs, Vernon, and Whittier. As it is a legal matter, it will be discussed and voted on in closed session. Should the Council take a vote, the results will be announced before the resumption of the meeting.

While this county-wide program for all Los Angeles County courts just began, it is not “new.” D.A. George Gascon, who has also been a frequent subject of criticism in the conservative press, changed the D.A.’s policy so that the county does not seek cash bail. L.A. County Courts also used a similar “zero cash bail” policy for all municipal arrests during the early days of the pandemic.

According to a report by the county and presented to the Board of Supervisors, the program did not lead to an increased number of people skipping bail and not arriving at their trials. 

But the reform to the bail system has not been a political decision, it was mandated by the Los Angeles Superior Court and was announced not by a politician but by Superior Court Judge who said simply, “”A person’s ability to pay a large sum of money should not be the determining factor in deciding whether that person, who is presumed innocent, stays in jail before trial or is released.”

Another report by the Judicial Council of California, the policymaking body of the California courts, found that “zero cash bail” actually improved public safety. 

Governments that have instituted this system have seen a 5.8% drop in suspects being rearrested for misdemeanors and a 2.4% decrease in suspects being rearrested for felonies. The study also found that zero cash bail is more fair across racial and economic lines. Black individuals booked on misdemeanors had a 9% increase for pretrial release, compared to a 4.8% increase for White individuals. 

All of the documents, fact sheets, and the report itself can be found on the Judicial Council of California’s web page on the California Pretrial Release Program.

Damien Newton
Damien Newton
Damien is the executive director of the Southern California Streets Initiative which publishes Santa Monica Next, Streetsblog Los Angeles, Streetsblog San Francisco, Streetsblog California and Longbeachize.

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