This week California became the first U.S. state to officially end cash bail.
But some groups pushing for that reform — among them the ACLU and Human Rights Watch — wound up opposing the final bill.
In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered Udi Ofer, deputy national political director of the ACLU and the director of the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice, explained the group’s objections:
“[T]he problem that we have with the law is that it replaces this current system with another system that could be even worse, lead to an increase in pretrial detention and that gives way too much power to judges and to prosecutors without unnecessary oversight.
So the new law passed in California creates broad new categories of people who will now be presumed to be subjected to pretrial incarceration – so for example, anyone arrested and charged with a robbery or any felony where there was just a threat of violence even if no actual violence took place.
You know, there’s a whole industry out there of people who are creating these essentially algorithms that take a bunch of factors into consideration and then pop out a number that tells law enforcement or a judge what risk you are – so an algorithm that would take into consideration past arrests even if there hasn’t been a conviction. We know that communities of color are over-policed and come in contact with the criminal justice system much more frequently. If you now build an algorithm that gives you a worse score on a risk assessment because you have been arrested before, then that perpetuates racial bias in the criminal justice system.”
Ofer said the ACLU would prefer to see evidence of things like actually skipping court be the sort of thing that leads to pre-trial detention rather than the product of an algorithm.
The ACLU of California’s full statement on the legislation can be read here.