(CN) – California’s sluggishness on bail reform has earned the state a failing grade in pretrial justice, according to a report released Wednesday by the nonprofit Pretrial Justice Institute.
California was among 13 states to score an abysmal grade of D. The report cites the Golden State’s pretrial detention rate, scant use of pretrial assessment tools and the persistence of money bail to ensure court appearances as contributing factors.
Detainees who have not yet been convicted currently make up 63 percent of the jail population in the United States, the report says. Of the 49 states the Pretrial Justice Institute analyzed, eight states – Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Kentucky, Nevada, Rhode Island, Utah and Virginia – received B grades, while Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington state and Wisconsin earned Cs.
Seventeen states received Fs, bringing the national average to a D.
“It is important to note that these scores are based upon current practice and do not reflect reforms initiated but not yet fully implemented,” the report says. “Several states have grades that do not reflect important initiatives that PJI expects, in time, will yield significant improvements.
The report comes as California’s judiciary released its own study of the issue last week, recommending an end to cash bail in favor of risk assessments that would allow many detainees to await their court dates at home.
In a statement, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said, “I support the conclusion that California’s current pretrial system unnecessarily compromises victim and public safety and agree with the recommendation to replace our current system of money bail with one based on a defendant’s risk to the public.”
Cantil-Sakauye has also thrown her support behind Senate Bill 10, legislation written by state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, and Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, to eliminate money bail and replace it with a risk assessment program.
In a phone interview, Pretrial Justice Institute CEO Cherise Fanno Burdeen said California may have a long way to go to raise its score, but applauded the state’s judicial and legislative efforts.
“We’re really thrilled with the chief justice’s report. It’s in line with the Hertzberg-Bonta bill and it’s in the political atmosphere of California,” Burdeen said. “We hope that the understanding the grade California has gotten which is a reflection of the current status of things; it doesn’t take into account any hopes, dreams or pending legislation. It’s a simply way of getting the grade up.”
For the last six years, Burdeen’s organization has been pushing for changes to the bail system across the nation.
Burdeen said the goal of the report is to provide “context, comparison among states and a sense of urgency” on the issue, adding that as people have begun to realize the impact of mass incarceration and racial disparities within the criminal justice system, a strong pretrial services program has become a crucial – if overlooked – component of bail reform.
Bail Reform California, a coalition of organizations like the ACLU, the Service Employees International Union and the California Public Defenders Association, said in a statement Thursday that while California's grade is unacceptable, the state is committed to improvement.