Human Rights Watch

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US: California Bail System Penalizes the Poor

Guilty Pleas to Avoid Detention

Tuesday 11 April 2017

(Los Angeles, April 11, 2017) – California pressures poor people who cannot pay bail to plead guilty in order to be released from jail, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The system of money bail and pretrial detention also results in the unnecessary jailing of innocent people, and undermines justice for all. 

The 118-page report, “Not In It For Justice,” details how about 63 percent of prisoners in California county jails in recent years were not sentenced, but were being held awaiting trial because they could not afford bail. In the six counties analyzed in detail, between 20 and 35 percent of detained prisoners were able to post bail, with the vast majority of those paying non-refundable fees to bail bondsmen. Human Rights Watch found that tens of thousands of Californians were held in jail for days, weeks and months without ever being convicted of any crime. From 2011 through 2015, police arrested and jailed 1,451,441 people for felonies, nearly half a million of whom spent time in jail though they were ultimately found not guilty, their cases were dismissed, or the evidence was so weak that the prosecutor never filed charges.

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