Pretrial Reform Project

As the state and counties implement pretrial reforms, CPL is helping evaluate if the reforms are effective and if they reduce existing racial disparities.

Background

In 2018, the California legislature passed Senate Bill 10 (SB 10) to end the practice of money bail. The law also enacted a host of other pretrial reforms, including requiring counties to evaluate defendants using validated risk assessments and to release defendants unless detention is necessary for public safety or to guarantee appearance at trial. A 2020 referendum (Proposition 25) was rejected by voters in November 2020, which stopped SB 10 from going into effect.

While voters defeated SB 10 from going into effect, a court case (In re Humphrey) is also changing how money bail works in California. In March 2021, the California Supreme Court held that judges must consider a defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail.

Humphrey provides a potential natural experiment to determine the efficacy of money bail. Before this case, bail amounts were set at levels that were often unaffordable to arrested individuals. However, Humphrey required courts to consider a defendant’s ability to pay bail when determining bail amounts.

Research Project

Projected impact of Proposition 25: CPL analyzed historic data to understand how the implementation of SB 10 would affect pre-arraignment release in San Francisco and Sonoma Counties. In the analysis, CPL applied SB 10’s eligibility release criteria to answer the question: If SB 10 had been in place in 2017 and 2018, would the number of individuals detained or released have changed? This descriptive project analyzed all cases that were booked into jail over a two year period in San Francisco, which has a history of pretrial reforms, and in Sonoma County, which has a different pretrial service system, uses a different risk assessment tool, and has a different rate of pretrial release than San Francisco.

Impact of In re Humphrey: This study leverages changes in bail policy following the In re Humphrey decision to better understand the short-term outcomes of individuals who have different pretrial detention experiences. Using a difference-in-differences model, we use the time periods pre-and post-Humphrey to understand the effect of release on bail versus pretrial detention on case outcomes, and the effect of supervised pretrial release versus release on own recognizance on case outcomes, safety rates, and appearance rates.

Research Team

Dr. Johanna Lacoe (Co-Principal Investigator), Dr. Mia Bird (Co-Principal Investigator), Alissa Skog, Elsa Augustine

Results

CPL found that if Proposition 25 had passed, it would have increased releases prior to arraignment in both San Francisco and Sonoma counties. The increase in releases in both counties would have been concentrated among individuals assessed as low-to-medium risk of new criminal activity or failing to appear in court, while a larger share of defendants assessed as high-risk would have been detained until arraignment. CPL also projected that pre-arraignment release rates would increase for all racial/ethnic groups, but racial disparities in pre-arraignment releases would have remained.

Read the Projected Impact of Prop. 25 policy brief.

Read the Humphrey policy brief.

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