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‘Cash bail doesn’t make us any safer,’ says DA Gascón
By Knx News 97 1 Fm,
A new zero-bail system went into effect in Los Angeles County Sunday, eliminating cash bail for all but the most serious violent crimes.
Under the new system, people arrested on most non-violent or non-serious offenses will be cited or booked, then released until their arraignment date. Arrestees believed to be a flight risk or a threat to the public will be sent to a magistrate judge, who will decide whether to hold them in custody or set non-financial conditions on their release, like electronic monitoring.
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L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón told KNX In Depth’s Rob Archer and Elsa Ramon the new policy is a step forward because the old system of cash bail wasn’t working.
“I think that the first thing that we need to do is sort of take a moment and understand that cash bail doesn’t make us any safer,” he said. “We have people that consistently are able to pay their way out and then they go back and reoffend.”
A report released last year by the Board of Supervisors found that, when zero-bail was implemented during the pandemic, there was no negative effect on rearrest rates or court appearance rates. A similar report by the Judicial Council of California found that rearrest rates actually dropped when cash bail was eliminated.
Even though there’s no evidence zero-bail poses any danger to public safety, a coalition of 12 Southern California cities requested an injunction Friday seeking to block the switch to zero-bail.
Joe Vinatieri, mayor of Whittier – one of the cities involved in the litigation – told KNX In Depth he was concerned that people with prior arrests or convictions would be cited and released under the new policy.
Former L.A. County DA Steve Cooley also told KNX News that he believes prosecutors should be able to present evidence to a judge before a decision is made on detention or release.
“Our system relies on an adversary system – a defense attorney, a prosecutor, in front of a judge, bringing information to a judge, for the judge to make a decision,” he said.
However, prosecutors have never been involved in determining bail before arraignment, where attorneys on both sides can still argue for or against continuing to detain a suspect until trial.
Gascón said the courts have promised to have magistrates available around-the-clock to review cases and decide whether arrestees present a threat to public safety.
“I think that people that have open cases, for instance, we should be able to have a magistrate review, and there should be other considerations to be taken before they get released,” Gascón said. ”I think that detention based on community safety is something that needs to be evaluated and should be always on the table … But I find it problematic when people sort of want to go back to the way it was, because the way it was, first of all, it hasn't worked.”
Gascón noted that zero-bail for nonviolent offenses isn’t anything new: for the past two decades, offenders whose bail was set under $50,000 have been released immediately anyway due to overcrowding at L.A. County jails.