San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin announces elimination of cash bail

Written by on 01/22/2020

A year ago, in January 2019, when Chesa Boudin was an attorney with the Public Defender’s Office, he counsels a client at a pretrial hearing who was being held in jail on bail. A year later, as district attorney, he is abolishing money bail for all but the most dangerous detainees. – Photo: Lea Suzuki, SF Chronicle

San Francisco prosecutors
will no longer request payment as a condition for pretrial release

by Paula Lehman-Ewing

San Francisco
Attorneys at the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office received a formal
policy today ending the practice of prosecutors asking for cash bail as a
condition of pretrial detention. Whether someone will have to remain
incarcerated pretrial will no longer be based on wealth and poverty but instead
on risk.

By replacing money bail with a risk-based system, people who
are safe to be released get released quickly with appropriate, non-monetary
conditions, and those who pose a serious threat to public safety are detained,
regardless of their wealth.

“For years I’ve been fighting to end this discriminatory and
unsafe approach to pretrial detention,” District Attorney Chesa Boudin said. “From
this point forward, pretrial detention will be based on public safety, not on

taxpayers spend $38 million per day to jail people who are awaiting trial.[1] Upholding
the money bail system also comes at a high societal cost: Pretrial detention
and the disruption that causes to a person’s life can lead to a 32.2 percent
increase in the likelihood of future felony charges and has an immediate impact
on an individual’s ability to maintain an income and housing.[2]

Studies conducted by Human Rights Watch have revealed that
pretrial release for those who do not present a risk to public safety makes our
court systems fairer and does not result in an increase of crime nor an
increase in missed court dates.

Pretrial detention and the disruption that causes to a person’s life can lead to a 32.2 percent increase in the likelihood of future felony charges and has an immediate impact on an individual’s ability to maintain an income and housing.

“District Attorney Boudin’s policy is a great step towards a
more just system,” said John Raphling, a senior researcher at Human Rights
Watch. “For too long, prosecutors have used money bail and pretrial
incarceration as leverage to pressure people to plead guilty regardless of
actual guilt. Boudin’s policy favoring pretrial release is a welcome change and
will help build the credibility of our courts.”

Money bail has disproportionately impacted our poorest
communities as well as communities of color. In San Francisco,
African-Americans pay over $120 per capita per year in non-refundable bail fees
compared to $10 per capita per year for white individuals. Additionally, since
99 percent of people who post bail in San Francisco use private bail bond
companies, there is an instant and dramatic transfer of wealth from low-income
neighborhoods and communities of color to private industry; roughly $10-$15
million in non-refundable fees are paid annually to bail bond agencies.[3]

Former San Francisco DA George Gascón introduced an
algorithmic risk assessment tool in 2016 to move the county away from monetary
bail and towards a system based on risk to public safety. In stark contrast to
money bail, this tool has helped prosecutors make more equitable decisions
concerning pretrial individuals. It has allowed prosecutors and judges to
preserve the constitutional protection of presumed innocence, while maintaining
public safety through objective data.

“We are excited to see the city of San Francisco end the
racially and economically discriminatory practice of money bail,” said Raj Jayadev,
cofounder of the community advocacy organization Silicon Valley De-Bug. “It is
a scheme that shatters families, communities and lives and the due process we
claim is a right afforded to all. If we are to move away from pretrial
detention and towards a just and safe community, it starts with ending the
indefensible ransom of money bail.”

Today, the office takes this important step by formalizing a policy to eliminate money bail and answers the statewide call by California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and the California Legislature to end this unfair system.

Paula Lehman-Ewing, communications manager for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, can be reached at

Justice: How Much Does It Cost?” Pretrial Justice Institute (January 2017)

Downstream Consequences of Misdemeanor Pretrial Detention.” Stanford Law Review
(March 2017)

the Math: Money Bail Doesn’t Add Up for San Francisco.” Office of the Treasurer
& Tax Collector, City and County of San Francisco (June 2017)

Source: San Francisco Bay View

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