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New Research Shows How CA Supreme Court’s Recent Decision on Bail Reform was Implemented in San Francisco

San Francisco, CA, May 25th, 2021 — A new policy brief released today by the nonpartisan California Policy Lab shows that when San Francisco was required to set more affordable bail amounts, judges in San Francisco chose to release more people to intensive supervision programs instead. This new analysis provides a preview of what may happen in other counties after the California Supreme Court applied that decision to the rest of the state earlier this year. The Court’s March 2021 decision in In re Humphrey requires judges to consider a person’s ability to pay when setting their bail amounts. It also mandates that pretrial detention should only be used if less restrictive options won’t ensure a follow-up appearance at court and guarantee the public’s safety. San Francisco started following a lower court’s ruling in January 2018, which had the same requirements.

“Surprisingly, there was not an increase in bail releases after San Francisco began adhering to the court ruling to consider a person’s ability to pay when setting bail amounts,” explains Dr. Johanna Lacoe, Research Director at the California Policy Lab, and a co-author of the analysis. “Instead, the share of people released to intensive supervision doubled. One potential explanation is that judges prefer releases to supervision for people assessed as high risk of missing their court appearance or committing a new offense, as compared to setting their bail at an affordable amount that would result in a release without supervision. As other counties begin adhering to the decision, they should consider whether existing release options are available as alternatives to bail, and whether those programs can increase capacity.”

San Francisco’s experience implementing Humphrey may be different than other counties, given its pre-existing commitment and infrastructure dedicated to pretrial reform. To comply with the 2018 ruling, San Francisco increased its investment in existing pretrial supervision programs by approximately $4 million between Fiscal Year 2016-17 and Fiscal Year 2019-20. The county also allocated funding to expand an intensive case management program run by the San Francisco Pretrial Diversion Project, and the budget for the Sheriff Office’s electronic monitoring was increased, along with its annual caseload, which grew significantly, from several cases to several hundred cases.

Additional findings from San Francisco following Humphrey’s adoption in January 2018 (Note: these changes occurred after Humphrey was adopted in San Francisco, while suggestive, the analysis does not casually link these changes to the ruling’s bail reforms.)

1. Releases on cash bail declined from 22% to 15% of filed cases, and the average number of filed cases released on cash bail each month decreased from 75 to 52 cases.

2. Releases to intensive supervision doubled from 14% to 28%.

3. The share of filed cases that were detained for the full pretrial period declined from 25% to 22%, and the average length of stay in jail decreased by about a week (44.9 days to 37.3 days).

4. Humphrey’s impact on the jail population is less clear, and the overall jail population in- and out-flows remained fairly stable before and after San Francisco began following the 2018 ruling.

5. There were statistically significant decreases in the likelihood of detention for the full pretrial period for Black and White individuals (when controlling for risk level and case factors), but there was no change in the likelihood of detention for Hispanic individuals.

The California Policy Lab creates data-driven insights for the public good. Our mission is to partner with California’s state and local governments to generate scientific evidence that solves California’s most urgent issues, including homelessness, poverty, criminal justice reform, and education inequality. We facilitate close working partnerships between policymakers and researchers at the University of California to help evaluate and improve public programs through empirical research and technical assistance.

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