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Bail Reform Bait & Switch: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

The fight for bail reform hit a deeply embarrassing roadblock yesterday.

*one finger curls on the monkey’s paw*

The fight for bail reform hit a deeply embarrassing roadblock yesterday as Gov. Brown signed SB10 into law — a bill that, due to last minute amendments by State Senator Bob Hertzberg, was abandoned by nearly every single organization that had originally supported the bill.

The new law might do away with the archaic practice of cash bail, but it does so by expanding the authority of judges and police to imprison people without any legal recourse — people who, mind, are innocent under the law. The form this authority will take is clear, as judges already are far too willing to impose unconstitutional and punitive amounts of bail, and overcharging on arrest is common practice throughout law enforcement. This bill betrays the fundamental purpose of bail reform, which is to equalize a system where the poor languish in jail while the rich walk free by freeing the fucking poor, not simply to remove the dollar signs from their unjust imprisonment.

As amended, SB10 is an entirely different bill in form and purpose — a perversion of meaning that could be best described as some real Monkey’s Paw shit. The amendments were rammed through under cover of darkness, with anti-mass-incarceration groups rallying to oppose a bill that was completely concealed from the public until the morning it was voted on, probably in violation of California law. We weren’t the only ones kept in the dark — calls to field offices and muddled arguments on the floor made it clear that most of our legislators had no idea exactly what had changed in the bill over the weekend.

With more than a year until the bill actually goes into effect, the bail reform movement and the bail industry are in a bizarre race against the clock. Foes of mass incarceration are carefully following the progress of the Humphrey case, which could potentially scuttle large parts of SB10, and a legal challenge to the underhanded amendment process is likely. Bail bondsmen, meanwhile, are fighting to stay in business by pushing a referendum to undo the governor’s signature — a move that is likely to make unusual allies out of their industry’s foes.