No-Bail Fail?

Photo by Bob Jagendorf

On April 6, the state of California adjusted their legal system to minimize coronavirus cases by shifting to a no-bail system for most misdemeanors and “low-level” felonies, which are categorized as those which carry a maximum penalty of four years or less in prison.

The rationale was that the in-prison transmission rate of covid-19 was so high that it was improper to subject people who might have committed low-level crime to a potentially fatal environment. This was only the latest argument on behalf of zero-bail policies, however; there has been a push for reforming the state’s bail system for years based on the inherent inequity of wealthier detainees being able to afford release and poorer ones being held in prison independent of their likelihood of recidivism. Promoters of no-bail systems argue that the financial disparity problem is at heart a racial issue, and that a bail system is therefore racially unjust.

A no-bail system is arguably already working in New Jersey. Passed in 2017, it disallowed cash bail for most crimes. A report released in 2019 showed that the system had been generally successful. The surge in crime which had been predicted did not manifest, nor did a massive rise in failures to appear before the court.

Both of those statistics did rise, however, and more than incidentally; people charged with indictable crimes while awaiting trial rose by 1% and those charged with disorderly conduct crimes rose by just under 2%. Meanwhile, there was similarly only a small change in the racial makeup of those jailed for criminal offenses…. black and hispanic populations were down 2%. Basically, the radical changes promised by both sides of the bail reform issue failed to manifest.

Those small percentages can matter when dealing with individual cases, though. In New Jersey, Jules Black was arrested on a weapons charge in early 2017, was released under the new policy, and three days later killed a man. And now, in California, police are seeing some repeat offenders take advantage of the no-bail rules to enact small crime sprees.

Most notable among them, for the novelty factor, is the case of Dijon Landrum, who was arrested three separate times last Wednesday for breaking into cars and stealing the contents… the last time, he drove off in the car, leading to a police chase. He was again cited and released.

On Friday, David Frakes – already on parole after being convicted of assault with a deadly weapon – attempted commercial burglary twice on the same day. After being arrested and released on his first attempt, the second time he smashed a business’ large front window and overflowed a toilet in an apparent attempt to hide some of the evidence of his theft. Police were able to get an emergency bail deviation and are holding Frakes.

Similar events have occurred in other heavily-populated areas of the state. For example, on the 20th, a man identified as Rocky Music was charged and released in Oakland for car theft… and hours later was again arrested, this time for carjacking and attempted carjacking. The first incident had occurred just 37 minutes after his release; he’d walked to a nearby transit station and forcibly stolen someone’s car.

The policy may be lessening the coronavirus cases in Los Angeles by minimizing the spread among the prison population, but coronavirus information trackers such as the one linked by LAist demonstrate that Los Angeles and the surrounding areas are faring extremely poorly as a whole, with the worst numbers in all of California, 255 confirmed cases per 100,000 people (notably, with very incomplete testing), out of Los Angeles county. The San Francisco and Oakland areas are not as badly served as the Los Angeles area, having high numbers but slower growth of confirmed cases. Even taking the Los Angeles area completely out of the calculations, the case numbers for California are still considerably worse than many other states.

Overall, it may be a successful policy – it’s hard to prove a negative, and that’s what lies at the heart of the current no-bail effort, keeping new cases from occurring via the overpopulated California prison system. Statewide crime figures have also not yet been compiled; it is possible that the no-bail efforts will show complete success in other areas. It is certain that the large transmission rates are due in part to early infections from travelers from overseas, which further skews the data by adding variables not regularly seen in other states. But two of the suggested metrics, a low covid-19 infection rate and criminals not repeatedly engaging in illegal activity, have absolutely failed to materialize in California.

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.