The NCSL Blog


By Amber Widgery

With the enactment of Senate Bill 10 on Tuesday, California becomes the first state to statutorily eliminate money bail as an available condition of pretrial release.

California governor Jerry BrownThe bill even goes so far as to prohibit courts from requiring defendants to pay for any nonmonetary conditions of release, such as fees for pretrial supervision or electronic monitoring.

Other jurisdictions like New Jersey and Washington, D.C., have implemented reforms that have virtually eliminated the use of financial conditions of release, but California will be the first state to take cash bail off the books. Every other state, regardless of use, currently allows the practice in law.

California isn’t the only state looking to reform pretrial release. I was in Wisconsin this month to testify for the Legislative Council Study Committee on Bail and Conditions of Pretrial Release. Wisconsin, like many other states across the nation, is recognizing that the predominant system of money bail may not be the safest or most efficient.

At least seven counties in Wisconsin are already participating in a pretrial pilot program that has, among other pretrial reforms, included the adoption of risk-based pretrial release. Risk-based systems use an assessment tool and usually focus on the risk that a defendant poses to the public and whether the person will return for court instead of the amount of money that person has in his or her pocket.

At least 12 states authorize, incentivize or require that a risk assessment tool be used on some if not all defendants on a statewide level. State action has also addressed more than risk assessments. Since 2012, there have been more than 700 new enactments addressing pretrial and other front end justice issues such as citation in lieu of arrest and pretrial diversion.

So far there have been 622 bills introduced in 2018 addressing pretrial issues. States and local jurisdictions across the nation are moving away from money bail and implementing risk-based systems of pretrial release. As early results from jurisdictions who have implemented reforms continue to show promise, state level attention to the pretrial process is something that I expect to continue.

Amber Widgery is a senior policy specialist in the Criminal Justice Program and a national expert on pretrial policy.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.