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Center for Media Justice

#NoDigitalPrisons Campaign Statement on California’s Bail Reform Bill

New law, SB10, will expand incarceration, not reduce it

August 30, 2018

Contact: Myaisha Hayes, Myaisha@mediajustice.org


CA -- California has long needed meaningful bail reform, but Governor Jerry Brown placed communities of color across the state at further risk of unjust pretrial detention when he signed into law bail reform bill SB10. Replacing the money bail system with an equally discriminatory system of risk assessments and electronic monitoring is not a victory for communities that have been fighting to abolish pretrial detention. In fact, this bill represents a significant step backward. SB10’s reliance on risk assessment algorithms and electronic monitors will further entrench racial bias, undermine the presumption of innocence, and expand mass incarceration.


SB10 entrenches racial bias by relying on unregulated risk assessment tools. These tools use data pulled from an unjust and racially discriminatory criminal legal system to determine whether to release an individual from pretrial detention. This data is not a reflection of “risk”, but a reflection of who is actively surveilled, targeted, and criminalized by the police. Though claiming to be race-neutral and “fair”, data pulled from a criminal legal system of policing and sentencing already steeped in proven racial bias cannot help but supersize the potential for additional discrimination and places a technological barrier between people that have not been found guilty of a crime and their freedom.


SB10 undermines the presumption of innocence, by outsourcing the detention of innocent individuals that have not been found guilty of a crime via electronic monitors for pretrial release. Electronic monitors under any condition are not an alternative to incarceration, but rather an alternative form of incarceration. These devices replicate punishment and create digital prisons within our communities by imposing restrictions to movement that impact people’s ability to maintain employment, seek medical care, or take care for their families. Additionally, these gps enabled devices infringe on the fundamental right to privacy while extending the reach of the surveillance state. Given the ways in which electronic monitoring micmicks the conditions people experience in jail, it is not uncommon for people to take a plea deal instead of fighting their case.


The reliance on algorithms for pretrial risk assessment and on electronic monitors expands, not decreases, mass incarceration. For these reasons, the Center for Media Justice, and partners of the #NoDigitalPrisons campaign, reject and oppose SB10. SB10 is NOT true bail reform.


The following quotes can be attributed to members of the #NoDigitalPrisons campaign:


"California’s SB10 has turned bail reform into a license for empowering judges to detain people on the basis of racially-biased risk assessment tools and individual discretion. In the words of Human Rights Watch, it “betrays the goals of the bail reform movement.” Not only does SB10 have the potential to confine more Black and brown people in jail, the bill also runs the risk of tying those who are released to draconian regimes of electronic monitoring with exorbitant fees.  We need to get innocent people out of jail and give them their freedom, not tie them to electronic shackles and mountains of debt," James Kilgore, Project Director, Challenging E-Carceration


“We believe at the Center for Media Justice that it is possible to enact meaningful bail reform that doesn’t replace one discriminatory system with another. SB10 doesn’t just fall short of the demands to end pretrial detention, it completely undermines it by expanding the mechanisms for detention driven by technology that is entrenched in racial bias,” Myaisha Hayes, National Organizer on Criminal Justice & Technology, Center for Media Justice


"Risk assessments trained on a racist practice of criminal justice are sold as a necessary part of ending money bail, but in many jurisdictions nationwide, these tools don't reduce pretrial incarceration, and don't reduce the ugly racial disparities in who stays locked up and who goes home," Hannah Sassaman, Policy Director, Media Mobilizing Project


#NoDigitalPrisons is a campaign to curtail the use of pre-trial risk assessments and electronic monitors, led by the Center for Media Justice, in partnership with researcher and advocate James Kilgore, Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center, Media Mobilizing Project and other organizations within the Media Action Grassroots Network.


Visit http://centerformediajustice.org/our-projects/challengingecarceration-electronic-monitoring/ and https://medium.com/nodigitalprisons to learn more about the #NoDigitalPrisons campaign.


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Full statement from Media Mobilizing Project:

"Risk assessments trained on a racist practice of criminal justice are sold as a necessary part of ending money bail, but in many jurisdictions nationwide, these tools don't reduce pretrial incarceration, and don't reduce the ugly racial disparities in who stays locked up and who goes home," said Hannah Sassaman, Policy Director of Media Mobilizing Project, which is leading local and national work centering communities in conversations about risk assessments in pretrial decision-making.  


"In July, Media Mobilizing Project joined over 120 organizations, partnering with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Center for Media Justice, and others, in saying that risk assessment should never be included in pretrial decision-making unless it is only used to end money bail, only send far more people home, and guarantee robust pretrial protections to anyone with a risk of losing their liberty pretrial.  


Plans to put risk assessment only into the hands of law enforcement, that assume that someone "risky" should stay locked up, and that are devoid of community oversight and accountability are dangerous, and antithetical to goals of ending mass incarceration in the United States."