Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 36, written by Senate Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), which regulates the use of pretrial risk assessment tools.
In recent years, California has led the nation in adopting new tools and processes aimed at making the pretrial justice system fairer for the accused in the period between when they are charged with a crime and when they are brought to trial.
In 2017, the Pretrial Detention Reform Workgroup Report commissioned by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye reported that as many as 49 counties in California use one of eight different risk assessment instruments in their pretrial processes. This year’s state budget also established a pilot program for updated pretrial practices in select counties.
However, under current law there are no minimum standards governing the effective use of risk assessment tools and no safeguards in place to ensure that they are being used in a way that accurately estimates risk while minimizing bias.
SB 36 will establish guidelines regarding the use of risk assessment tools, including data collection, transparency requirements and regular validation of the tools.
“When it comes to the way we handle the accused before trial, California is simply failing. We can do better, and we must do better,” Hertzberg said. “I thank the governor for working with us to ensure that risk assessments are being used in a way that accurately estimates risk without disproportionately affecting communities that have already been so impacted by the criminal justice system.”
The bill was joint authored by state Sen. Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and sponsored by a coalition of organizations, including the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Californians for Safety and Justice and NextGen California.
“Money bail is unjust and unconstitutional and California’s justice system is failing us by allowing it to continue,” said Jessica Bartholow, of the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “We are proud to support efforts to end money bail, but know that replacing it with a process that uses algorithms to determine whether a person is eligible for pretrial release leaves the system vulnerable to racism, classism and ableism. SB 36 is an important next step to de-incarcerating people prior to their determination of guilt and to making sure [we] do this without bias impacting the outcome. We are grateful for its signature.”
For information, visit sd18.senate.ca.gov.
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