L.A. Takes Step Towards Ending Punishment-for-Poverty Pretrial System

L.A. Takes Step Towards Ending Punishment-for-Poverty Pretrial System

For Immediate Release: October 2, 2023

Press Contacts:
Contact: Lucy Sears
(240) 676-4499 | lsears@publicjustice.net

Contact: Cheryl Bonacci
(818) 339-6928 | cheryl@civilrightscorps.org

L.A. Takes Step Towards Ending Punishment-for-Poverty Pretrial System

Los Angeles, CA.  — On Sunday, October 1, the Los Angeles Superior Court (LASC) took an important step towards limiting the criminalization of poverty by implementing the Pre-Arraignment Release Protocol (PARP) in Los Angeles County. This moves the criminal legal system in Los Angeles away from wealth-based pretrial detention and towards a policy that, if implemented in an evidence-based way, will safely release more people pretrial while simultaneously decreasing future arrests and ensuring that thousands of Los Angeles residents will keep their housing, work, and custody of children. Fewer Angelenos will be jailed for the “crime” of being poor.

PARP was announced by the LASC following Judge Riff’s order earlier this year in Urquidi v. Los Angeles, which prohibited the Sheriff and LAPD from jailing people arrested for certain charges simply because they could not afford to make a cash payment required by a bail schedule. This was a major victory for community members and advocates fighting to end LA’s punishment-for-poverty system. The court wrote, “The evidence demonstrates that secured money bail, as now utilized in Los Angeles County, is itself ‘criminogenic’ – that is, secured money bail causes more crime than would be the case were the money bail schedules no longer enforced.” The court concluded that “pre-arraignment detention under the bail schedules deprives the putative plaintiff class of their fundamental right to, and interest in, pretrial liberty in violation of the Due Process clauses of the U.S. and California Constitutions.” Money bail schedules have already been found unconstitutional in Sacramento and San Francisco.

The move to end money bail is supported by social science and data; in fact, during the hearing, court-appointed expert Dr. Paul Heaton testified to the scientific consensus that pretrial detention increases future arrests. Furthermore, researchers found that when comparing two individuals with similar circumstances arrested for the same crime in Houston, TX, the person jailed pretrial was more likely to be arrested in the future. In Philadelphia, people jailed pretrial were nine percent more likely to be arrested in the future. Basing decisions about who is sent home to their families and who remains behind bars on a person’s wealth is not only unfair and unconstitutional, it also makes our communities less safe.

As LASC CEO David Slayton testified before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, September 26th, re-arrests decrease when pretrial freedom is not conditioned on ability to pay. “With the implementation of pretrial reforms”—including the Emergency Bail Schedule, which set bail at $0 for most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies—“we’ve even seen rearrest decline. . . they were 40 percent in 2020; they decreased to 36% in 2021; and they were 29 percent in 2022.” Slayton further explained that the County saw a “statistically significant 5.8% decrease in rearrest rates for misdemeanors” and a “2.4 percent decrease in re-arrest rates for felonies. What the ultimate finding was that $0 bail did not increase failures to appear or re-arrest rates. In fact, they’ve remained at or below historic averages.” 

“It is clear that detaining people for being poor makes us less safe,” said Brian Hardingham, an attorney at Public Justice’s Debtors’ Prison Project who is part of the team litigating the Urquidi case. “I see how money bail and pretrial detention needlessly destabilize people’s lives, forcing them to miss work, car payments, medication, time with their children, and more, with no benefit to public safety. Isolating people from their lives and loved ones only perpetuates the cycle of poverty.”

The fight is not over yet — individuals arrested for certain crimes will not be eligible for release pursuant to PARP.  Moreover, “the true impact of a system depends on how it is implemented,” said Brian Hardingham of Public Justice’s Debtors’ Prison Project. “LASC has taken a step towards fairness by moving away from money bail in many cases. This said, we will be paying close attention to the process and outcomes of the new ‘Magistrate Review’ process, where a court official will make release and jailing decisions before there is a criminal case or attorney involved.”

“We applaud Los Angeles Superior Court for moving away from jailing or releasing people based on their ability to pay money bail,” said Micah Clark Moody, a Litigation Support Fellow at Civil Rights Corps. “This moves LA closer to the constitutional requirement that people are treated the same regardless of what’s in their bank account.” 


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