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Legislation to provide more opportunities for unsentenced detainees

In California, local county jail bed space is not always for the guilty.  Approximately 50,000 un-sentenced individuals are confined to the state's county jails, awaiting their time before a judge.  A majority of these individuals are confined to local jails because they are not able to post bail .  This contributes to the 71% state average of un-sentenced individuals in county jails.  These individuals have not necessarily been deemed a flight-risk or a danger to society; they just lack the fiscal resources to secure release back into the community.  This structure is both inefficient and expensive.  Further, the collateral consequences of unnecessary incarceration are expansive as time spent confined to local jail is often idle time away from employment, education, and families.

Under Realignment, California's counties have seen an increased responsibility for managing non-violent, non-serious, and non-sex offenders.  This has caused some difficulty for some local jurisdictions that have historically relied on incarceration at both the state and local level.  So, how do local criminal justice decision-makers manage available bed space without constructing expensive new jails?    

Some counties such as Santa Cruz and San Francisco have been exploring local alternatives to incarceration that have alleviated capacity problems with bed space in their jail system.  These two counties in particular have invested in non-custodial options, which have resulted in the counties' ability to manage the new responsibilities under Realignment.  For example, Santa Cruz County implemented a wide array of community-based alternatives for the pre-trial population that resulted in a local un-sentenced population that is 20% below the state average.  

Additionally, several counties like Santa Cruz utilize nationally-recognized risk assessment tools to determine if an arrested individual poses no flight risk or risk to public safety; therefore, can be released before their trial on their "own recognizance" (OR), or lightly supervised by the county.  Such individuals also receive pretrial services like drug counseling.  Pretrial interventions such as these have aided in the reduction of Santa Cruz's pre-trial population.

Yet not all counties have implemented such measures to reduce their jail populations, nor do they believe they have the legal authority to do so.  Therefore, organizations such the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have taken steps, through Senate Bill 210 , to propose new laws that would require the Courts to consider "own recognizance" pretrial release for certain populations of defendants.  By adding this additional step in the court process, current jail detainees who may not be financially able to post their own bail may be able to be released if they meet the conditions of OR.  Additionally, the legislation would clarify the legal authority of the Courts, county sheriffs, and probation departments to conduct risk assessments on the un-sentenced population.
 
This legislation supports the creation of an efficient and fiscally responsible criminal justice system.  By recognizing not all detainees must remain in jail before trial, justice stakeholders are better able to serve those offenders that require confinement.  Maintaining strong community ties for those individuals able to be released on their own recognizance has long-term positive impacts in reducing recidivism rates and improving public safety.        

Keywords: bail industry, community corrections, Kate McCracken, pretrial, San Francisco, Santa Cruz County

Posted in Blog, Model Local Practices

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