In 2011, California passed sweeping criminal justice reform with the goal of reducing the state’s prison population. The Public Safety Realignment Act (Realignment) shifted responsibility for certain low-level offenders, parole violators, and juvenile offenders from state prisons to county jails. To accommodate the resulting increase in local jail populations, statewide pretrial reform is needed. Statewide reform would achieve Realignment’s goals of building a safer, fairer criminal justice system through efficient, local solutions.
California Pretrial Reform: The Next Step in Realignment argues that the time for pretrial reform in California is now. The report describes California’s current pretrial system and notes that a majority of jail beds in California are filled by people either awaiting trial or sentencing—many of whom remain in jail simply because they cannot afford bail. It explains why California’s wealth-based system of money bail is ineffective at achieving the pretrial goals of protecting public safety and ensuring court appearances, and it shows how this system harms defendants, their families, and their communities, especially poor communities and communities of color. The report advocates for pretrial reforms that would build on the principles of Realignment by moving away from wealth-based detention system. A reformed pretrial system would facilitate release decisions through evidence-based risk assessments and offer pretrial services and the least restrictive supervision necessary to prevent pretrial misconduct and ensure court appearances. Similar reforms have been adopted in certain counties in California and in jurisdictions across the country, and they have proven to be cost-efficient and effective.