In recent years, California’s criminal justice system has undergone many changes, and one of the most concerning is the Zero Bail trend. While this policy may be lauded by some as a step toward fairness and justice, it has unintended consequences that should be of great concern to Ventura County residents.
In Los Angeles County, the Superior Court chose to adopt a $0 Bail policy. They adopted the most liberal interpretation of a recent California Supreme Court ruling, and they are set to begin this week. No bail is required for any crime committed in Los Angeles County except for 13 categories of serious and violent crimes.
In response, at least thirteen cities in LA County, including the progressive city of Santa Monica, joined a lawsuit in an attempt to block the court’s policy and continue the traditional method of bail. These 13 cities — and the police that protect and serve them — understand the negative effects of this policy on the safety and security of a county already besieged by high crime rates. Unfortunately, LA’s policy also has the potential to affect Ventura County residents.
It is important to understand why Los Angeles County Superior Court’s Zero Bail Policy incentivizes and promotes criminal activity and why Ventura County’s decision not to do so is necessary to ensure our continued safety.
The $0 Bail Policy, first temporarily implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, allows individuals arrested for certain so-called non-violent offenses to be released from jail without having to post bail ( other included offenses involve the use of force). In LA County, this happens immediately upon arrest for some crimes, rather than later in the process.
The stated purpose of this policy is to increase equity and reduce the prison population. However, the move highlights the fact that the Legislature has failed to adequately maintain California’s prisons and jails, prematurely closing some. We all agree that bail should never be used as a tool to punish those who have been charged but not yet convicted, but avoiding bail has other major flaws.
First and foremost, the Zero Bail Policy removes one of the most effective disincentives in history to repeat criminal activity — incarceration. Allowing individuals to be released on unsecured cash bail sends the message that there will be little effect on breaking the law. It has the potential to encourage criminals and discourage law-abiding citizens, destroying the foundation of a safe and just society.
We saw these results during the COVID-19 era when crime among repeat offenders rose to a 15-year high. As an example, in Orange County during the COVID era when zero bail was forced into the system, inmates released early or on $0 bail got out and committed new crimes at rates nearly triple normal recidivism. rates: 44% for early release of inmates and 38% for $0 bail defendants. The Chief of Police for the Los Angeles Police Department, Michel Moore, recently stated that the Zero Bail procedure “offers little deterrence to those involved in a variety of serious crimes.”
Additionally, the Zero Bail policy places an undue burden on law enforcement and the criminal justice system. With criminals repeatedly re-arrested and re-released, officers are forced to spend their time and resources trying to arrest the same offenders over and over again. This takes valuable resources away from protecting the law-abiding public and preventing new victims, in addition to reducing the time it takes for law enforcement to solve more serious crimes.
Ventura County residents are fortunate that our Superior Court did not adopt the interpretation of Zero Bail adopted by our neighboring county. Unlike Los Angeles County officials, our courts recognize the importance of striking a reasonable balance between public safety and criminal justice reform. We must ensure that individuals who threaten our citizens are prevented from preying on new victims while they await trial.
Unfortunately, Los Angeles policy negatively affects our residents. Many of the crimes committed in our neighborhoods come from people from LA Whether it’s smash-and-grab retail theft like we saw at the Oaks Mall last year, catalytic converter theft from cars in Thousand Oaks, or home burglary crime throughout East County , the perpetrators are primarily, and predictably, from LA County.
Ventura County is not alone in opposing the Zero Bail policy. Several other California counties have made the same decision for similar reasons. They also understand and accept the fact that, while thoughtful criminal justice reform is a worthwhile endeavor, a Zero Bail policy is definitely not the answer.
Jeff Gorell is a Ventura County Supervisor representing the 2nd District. Prior to that, Gorell was a California State Legislator; Ventura County Deputy District Attorney from 1999 to 2006; and Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles for Public Safety from 2015 to 202.