Local Journalism Happens With YouSupport

Prop 25 is Not Justice: It’s a Trap

Prop 25 promises to end cash bail, but we’ll wind up with a potentially worse alternative.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

We’re voting No on Prop 25.

Here’s why: Prop 25 would uphold SB 10, a bill to end cash bail passed in 2018, but has yet to be implemented. Due to some shocking amendments made right before it passed, it would give even more power and an insane budget bonus to the California Court System, a bloated and harmful institution. SB 10/Prop 25 would bring us codified racial profiling, unchecked power to judges, and hundreds of millions in funding to probation departments.

While the cash bail industry does exploit the hellscape that is mass-incarceration, it does not drive mass-incarceration. It is a byproduct. Cash bail is a gross and predatory practice because it keeps people in jail without a conviction and coerces the poor and disadvantaged into pleading guilty.

SB10/Prop 25 would replace cash bail with a different system of risk assessment and judicial fiat that still keeps people in jail without a conviction, still coerces people into pleading guilty, and is also racist and classist. The time, energy, and resources it would take to adopt Prop 25 would only bolster the carceral state and weaken our autonomy to protest its injustices.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Under SB10/Prop 25, three big shifts would occur:

  • Judges would be able to detain pretrial suspects arbitrarily, with no explanation and a very small window for appeal. This is particularly troubling for defendants in more conservative areas with “tough on crime” judges. Without the release valve of bail, defendants would be at the mercy of the court and more likely to succumb to coerced plea deals if faced with prolonged jail time.
  • Probation departments would expand to fulfill risk assessment demands, adding hundreds of millions of dollars to its budget. In LA County alone, our probation department already eats up $900 million — of all the ways to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in an uncertain economy, expanding law enforcement agencies should be last on our list.
  • The Arnold Foundation would be contracted to provide an ethically dubious risk assessment algorithm. Even its supporters don’t deny the racist potential of these algorithms. A defendant’s “risk” is determined by an aggregate of historical data of people with similar circumstances — immediately injecting class and racial biases into the process. The Arnold Foundation has not disclosed what data points will be considered to make these decisions. A black box of data determining whether or not someone should sit in a jail cell is some dystopian bullshit.

In a measly show of transparency, SB 10 would offer an annual review. Each year we could look back at how racist the system has been, but there are no promises to make adjustments, just the privilege of witnessing it in action. It essentially offers a window seat in a car on autopilot and tells us to trust that we’ll get to our destination.

If you need any other indications of why this proposition needs to go away, look to its supporters. Los Angeles DA Jackie Lacey supports Prop 25, as does SEIU, which represents employees of the court and prison system. John Arnold, whose foundation spawned California’s biased algorithm of choice, is also one of Prop 25’s biggest backers, as is Microsoft billionaire Steve Ballmer, who also has a stake in the promotion of these algorithms.

SB 10 started out as a good idea, but it fell victim to gatekeeping and backroom manipulation on its way through the legislature, including a last-minute lobbying push from the probation officers’ union. By the time it made it out of committee, the most valuable parts of the bill had been stripped away and most of the organizations working on it, such as the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, and the Pretrial Justice Institute, renounced the amended bill and withdrew their support.

What else can we do? A lot, actually.

Activists and advocates have already made SB 10 irrelevant in the two years since it was signed. We must vote YES on LA County’s Measure J, which includes meaningful pretrial reforms that Prop 25 jeopardizes. Citizens in both Los Angeles and San Francisco have already successfully pressured officials to commit to closing down jails. And the Humphrey case, litigated by Chesa Boudin prior to his election as District Attorney of San Francisco, would force courts to consider a defendant’s ability to pay in setting bail — a change that would dramatically reduce the number of people held pretrial.

Organizations like National Bail Out Collective and the Bail Project are working within the bail system to set people free using grassroots donations. The Alternatives to Incarceration project in Los Angeles and San Francisco’s SF Pretrial Diversion Project are two stellar examples of diversion initiatives at work in our community today. This is the work that should be uplifted and built upon.

We echo the ACLU’s statement that while the bail bonds industry is vile, this alternative would be worse, and we can do much better. Voting No on Prop 25 means we have full faith in the solutions that are already being implemented in the groundswell of our communities.

Want to learn more about your 2020 election ballot? Check out KNOCK.LA’s Voter Guide, which breaks down propositions and candidate platforms for over 120 races in and around LA County.

KNOCK.LA is a project paid for by Ground Game LA. This article was not authorized by a candidate or a committee controlled by a candidate.