The California Reparations Task Force is pushing for the state to end cash bail and the prosecution of low-level crimes as part of its campaign to pressure the Golden State to make reparations slavery and anti-black racism.
The task force, which was created by state legislation signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2020, last weekend formally approved its final recommendations to the California Legislature, which will then decide whether to enact the measures and send them to the governor’s office for signature. in the law.
The recommendations included several criminal justice-related proposals, including the elimination of cash bail.
“The cash bail system is at the heart of many class and racial inequalities in the criminal justice system,” the task force wrote in its proposal. “The Task Force therefore recommends that the legislator take all necessary steps to permanently end cash bail.”
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Democrats and progressive prosecutors across the country have taken steps in recent years to end cash bail, arguing it’s unfair to low-income people who can’t afford it. According to the committee’s final report outlining its proposals, a cash bail system allows those with resources to return to their homes and jobs while others remain in jail before trial despite the presumption of innocence.
“Pretrial detention can last for months or even years, during which those incarcerated suffer countless harms, including deterioration of their mental and physical health, risk of sexual violence and lasting trauma,” the group wrote. of work. “These prejudices place significant pressure on defendants to agree to plea bargains to be released rather than fight the charges at trial.”
Many Republicans and other critics counter that bail helps prevent people from committing crimes and that eliminating it will only encourage more criminal behavior. A recent study found that offenders released on bail or free of charge under zero bail policies reoffended more often than those who posted bail.
Still, the Newsom-backed panel says racial disparities persist in remand outcomes, arguing that bail hurts black defendants more than white defendants.
Accordingly, the committee wrote that California should codify “a presumption of bail in all criminal cases,” increase funding for “non-law enforcement bail service agencies to improve bail support programs” and implement a “statewide zero bail schedule.” In addition, the task force calls on the legislature to create a framework to compensate those detained before trials who were later acquitted or exonerated.
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The task force’s proposal to eliminate cash bail appears to be part of a larger movement to reduce sentences for criminals. Indeed, later in its report, the committee outlines what it describes as “over-policing” of black Americans before calling on California to stop prosecuting low-level crimes.
“Given the devastating effects of this type of over-policing, the task force recommends that the legislature prohibit law enforcement from criminally enforcing public disorder offenses and other low-level crimes,” wrote the working group.
“Instead, a public health and safety institution, without the power of arrest or criminal prosecution, would enforce prohibitions such as sleeping on the sidewalk, fare evasion, spitting on the train and other similar violations. related to public transit or other public disturbances that criminalize poverty.”
The task force goes on to propose that those arrested or criminally prosecuted for such violations be allowed to sue for damages or automatically receive compensation. Similarly, the report calls on lawmakers to establish a means of compensating those previously convicted of vagrancy with intent to engage in prostitution.
Such proposals would not be new to California, which has pursued several initiatives in recent years deemed soft on crime by critics.
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The state, for example, changed crimes like theft of property under $950 and drug possession from felonies to misdemeanors, reducing California’s prison population by 13,000 inmates. Inmates can also shorten their sentence through good behavior.
In recent years, California lawmakers have voted to limit gang-related sentencing enhancements, allow prostitution-related loitering, and automatically seal conviction and arrest records for most offenders not convicted of another crime. within four years. A bill pending would prevent police from using K-9s for arrests or crowd control.
The task force further recommends that the legislature create a system to pay California inmates “fair market value” for their work in prison. These were among a host of other criminal justice-related proposals contained in the report – from abolishing the death penalty to abolishing certain legal protections for police officers that shield them from liability in many cases in the performance of their law enforcement duties.
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The recommendations are part of an effort by the task force to address what the panel describes as an “unfair legal system” toward Black Californians.