by Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action-LA
Senate Bill 10, also known as “Setback 10”, passed the Senate and Assembly as Change Links was going to press, and Gov. Brown signed it after our print edition ran. Initiated in response to demands from wide sectors of the movement and communities impacted by the racist criminal justice system to end the exploitative system of commercial money bail, it was transformed in the legislature into a bill to establish preventive detention based on racially-skewed algorithms of “risk assessment,” while eliminating the possibility of getting out on bail pre-trial entirely. The bill is now opposed by most community groups that sought bail reform, such as the LA Community Action Network, Community Coalition, and the ACLU. Community groups held a successful teach-in featuring Jane Fonda sponsored by White People for Black Lives and Black Lives Matter LA on Aug. 19, and a press conference opposing the bill outside the Criminal Courts Bldg on Aug. 20. The bail bond/insurance industry is mobilizing to launch a petition drive to overturn the law via a ballot measure, and if that becomes official, it will suspend enactment of the law until the measure qualifies and is voted on, probably in 2020, instead of taking effect in 2019. Oversight and changes will have to be made to eliminate the worst portions of the law, either through the initiative process or legislative action. [Note: SB 10 has nothing to do with Proposition 10 on the November ballot in California, to repeal the state ban on the enactment of full rent control by municipalities. More on that measure next month.]
SB 10 is a good illustration of why George Jackson, the prisoner revolutionary and Black Panther, once said a simple definition of fascism in the US is one word, “reform.” Purporting to be a bail reform measure, SB 10 instead increases and racializes the barriers to release of people presumed innocent prior to trial! Money bail, it is true, lines the pockets of big insurance companies at the expense of the poor, but more important, by forcing people to remain behind bars prior to trial, it is a coercive mechanism to force poor people, especially Black, Brown, indigenous and Asian people, to accept plea bargains and criminalization so they can get released. 97% of cases in CA are settled without trial through plea bargaining. SB10 maintains the coercive power of pre-trial detention by eliminating bail entirely and placing all power to hold people in custody, without due process, in the hands of judges and the probation department.
Preventive detention prevents “suspects” from reuniting with their families. It prevents them from keeping their jobs, paying their bills, raising their kids, speaking freely with their lawyers, or maintaining community ties that can help them identify witnesses who can exonerate them. The “risk assessments” that are used to justify preventive detention are based on “garbage in-garbage out” algorithms that sanctify prior racial profiling and bias in the criminal justice system, as well as the criminalization of poverty and houselessness, as “objective” digital technology. The real risks of SB10 are that more innocent people will be locked away, forced to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit just to set an end date to their incarceration. The experience in New Jersey and Washington DC, both of which enacted real bail reform, replacing money bail with own-recognizance release, shows clearly that people who are released pre-trial come back for trial when ordered, or are more likely to get their charges dropped or dismissed or be exonerated.
For more information about how you can help deal with SB10 — which would set back true bail reform for a generation — contact Pete White at LA CAN: firstname.lastname@example.org