From Staff Reports
Significant reform of Orange County bail practices this year has led to a major reduction in how many people have been detained pretrial, according to a local group monitoring the changes.
“There has been substantial progress made,” said Kimberly Brewer, the chair of Orange County Bail/Bond Justice Project, which has been monitoring local bail practices for more than a year.
Comparing the period of Aug. 15 to Sept. 15, 2019 with the same period this year, the group found a 68-percent reduction in the number of pretrial individuals entering the Orange County Detention Center. Since June 2020, more generally, there has been an average of just one person detained pretrial daily, at both the magistrates’ and judges’ stage of bail setting, the group determined.
Brewer attributed the reductions to “the work of reform-minded Orange County criminal justice stakeholders and nonprofits (including OCBBJ), and the measures taken to address COVID-19.”
Last February, the faith-based organization released its court observation program findings as well as 14 recommendations for reform, including five that were deemed highest priority.
Those priorities included individualizing conditions of release according to ability to pay. The organization noted that Orange County magistrates are now required to use a new tool that expressly assesses a person’s ability to pay bail.
Also, the group had called for a clearer policy on the use of a written promise to appear as the default bail decision. The new magistrate’s tool now clearly spells out this policy, and has a decision checklist that requires use of a written promise to appear unless it’s established that a cash bail is needed.
Additionally, on Oct. 1, a new district bail/bond policy went into effect that is designed to provide clearer guidance on the use of a written promise to appear.
Despite the progress, Brewer cautioned that the gains may not be permanent.
“Given that many of the new reform measures were implemented during the COVID pandemic, the community needs to ensure that the progress made to date is sustained after the pandemic crisis subsides, and that more reform steps are taken,” she said.
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