By Renee Xiang,
In April of 2020, the California Judicial Council adopted a statewide emergency bail schedule to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in jails. The schedule set bail at $0 for most individuals accused of misdemeanors and low-level felonies. After the emergency schedule was rescinded in June, Yolo County was among a handful of California counties which chose to keep the $0 bail policy in place in the interest of public health.
The Yolo County District Attorney’s office has repeatedly raised concerns about the policy, citing 600-plus new crimes committed by individuals released on $0 bail since April.
A recent press release from the DA’s office detailed that “464 individuals have been arrested and released on $0 bail a total of 583 times, with some benefitting on multiple occasions,” and “over 40 percent of those released on $0 bail have reoffended at least once.”
Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Melinda Aiello believes that the Yolo County Superior Court needs to re-examine its decision to continue use of the emergency bail schedule.
“One of the biggest concerns about the $0 bail is the fact that when individuals are released, there is no risk assessment done. There is no assessment done of whether or not mental health issues are causing the criminal behavior, whether or not there are addiction issues at play, and when there’s no analysis of this done, then there’s no opportunity to intervene and offer services and get people into programs,” she said.
According to Aiello, February marks the highest rate of repeat offenses among those released on $0 bail.
“While we need to be mindful of the consequences of COVID being spread within jails, we should not do that to an extent that compromises public safety,” Aiello said.
The DA’s office continued criticism of $0 bail, however, has sparked a response from those on the other side of the argument, who question whether cash bail should be imposed under any circumstances.
“[The emergency bail schedule] gets rid of some bail temporarily and helps keep some people out of the jails that are experiencing outbreaks of COVID-19. Those are good things. However, it does not get rid of all bail and it will eventually end, so it’s not even really a reform,” NorCal Resist spokesperson Tibby Wroten said.
NorCal Resist is a grassroots organization which advocates for bail reform. Its bail fund project uses community donations to pay bail for individuals arrested on protest and immigration related charges.
“Data already shows that bail doesn’t actually prevent crime from happening. The best crime prevention is not to lock people up, innocent and guilty alike, but to build strong communities through housing security, food security, economic security, quality education, quality health care and a variety of other social services that are essential to a healthy, functioning society,” Wroten said.
The Yolo DA’s office has also been under scrutiny for opposing $0 bail so strongly when the policy may not necessarily contribute to an increase in crime rate. David Greenwald, a Yolo County resident and founder of the website Davis Vanguard, has written a series of articles investigating the $0 bail schedule.
“What I haven’t seen is any real evidence that crime is surging because of the zero bail policies,“ he said. “One of the things that you learn when you study this stuff for any length of time is that most people who get caught up in the system are going to be released at some point, and all this does is expedite that release point. So is it really going to, in the long run, drive up crime? Probably not.”
Additionally, the implementation of the Emergency Bail Schedule has also been largely effective in slowing the spread of the virus among jail populations. So far, Yolo County’s Monroe Detention Center has had zero positive cases of COVID-19.
“It’s something that our officials here in the county decided is necessary during the pandemic. I believe it’s really too early to say [whether or not it’s a concern for public safety],” said Lt. Matthew Davis, of the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s a pretty significant change in the criminal justice system, and it would be interesting to see the real numbers down the road.”