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Californians punished through pretrial detentions
By Charlene Muhammad Contributing Writer
Published May 2, 2017

California unfairly punishes poor people through its pretrial detention and bail system, indicates a recent report by Human Rights Watch.

“Not in it for Justice,” indicates tens of thousands of people arrested for a wide range of crimes spend hours, days, weeks, months, even years in jail based on wrongful pretrial detention, coerced guilty pleas, a discriminatory system, and high bail.

The report, released April 11, details how from 2011-2015, the Golden State’s police made some 1.5 million felony arrests.  Of those, nearly one in three (close to half-a-million people) were arrested, jailed, but never found guilty of any crime, according to study authors.

Taxpayers bear part of the staggering costs for what they call pretrial punishment.  For example, “Not in it for Justice” detailed, it costs $114 per day for each day a person is held in custody.  In Alameda, Fresno, Orange, Sacramento, San Bernardino, and San Francisco counties, it cost a total of $37.5 million for jailing people never charged by prosecutors or whose charges were dropped or dismissed.

For some, like Daniel Soto, the document examples, that meant hours, days, weeks, months and even years behind bars.

Then 18, he never returned home from a night out with friends on Nov. 2, 2015, according to the report.  It turns out he’d been stabbed and was in the hospital under police custody.

The teen and friends were accosted by a man with a knife outside a restaurant.  After a fight, a wounded Mr. Soto staggered to an officer, who summoned an ambulance but also arrested him.  The knife wielder got to police first, read the report.

Bail was set at $30,000, out of reach for his single mother Maria, who worked as a stenographer.  She earned just enough to pay rent and bills for she and her two sons.

After six weeks, a judge dismissed his case during his preliminary hearing, citing insufficient evidence to show the youth committed a crime.

“Daniel was able to go home, but he had lost a semester of school and a month-and-a-half of his life to jail for a crime he did not commit, all because his family did not have money to pay for his freedom,” the authors continued.

People who are accused of crimes remain jailed because they can’t afford to post bail, whether they are guilty or innocent, they found.

“Judges and prosecutors use custody status as leverage to pressure guilty pleas.  As one Californian who went into debt to pay fees on $325,000 bail for a loved one who was acquitted said, the actors in California’s bail system are “not in it for justice,” the report read.

It also indicated that those locked up before they even go to trial are overwhelmingly poor, working class, and from racial and ethnic minorities. In addition, California’s median bail rate is five times higher than the rest of the country.

As well, “Not in it for Justice” continued, California is also plagued by profound racial disparities in pretrial detention rates due to racial disparities in arrest and booking rates.

Blacks are booked into California jails at rates many times higher than Whites – for example, it is nine times higher in San Francisco, “Not in it for Justice” indicated.

Human Rights Watch is calling on California state and local governments to change they system it deemed unfair to one that does not discriminate based on wealth or over-incarcerate.

The organization warns that “risk assessment, an alternative to money bail using statistical predictions of risk, is likely to entrench racial biases and has potential to increase the number of people in pretrial custody and supervision.”

 

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