San Francisco’s investment in pretrial diversion can serve as a model for the state

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By David Mauroff

Last week, California’s highest court issued a historic ruling regarding cash bail, validating the innovative framework developed by San Francisco Pretrial Diversion Project and our partners. The California Supreme Court’s decision should extend greater and more equal access to justice throughout the state and would not have been possible without the courage and tenacity of Mr. Kenneth Humphrey, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, and Civil Rights Corps. We celebrate their victory and are committed to expanding our model for pretrial rights.

Based on the ruling, individuals throughout the state can no longer be kept in jail simply because they can’t afford to pay bail, reaffirming a foundational principle of our legal system: people are innocent until proven guilty. For too long, wealth has been the greatest determinant of whether someone is afforded the opportunity for pretrial release. Pretrial detention disproportionately impacts people of color and those of fewer means—even a few days in jail can result in the loss of a job, home, child custody, or other life-altering circumstances. In the face of these challenges, those who can’t afford bail are often left with the difficult choice of remaining in custody, pleading guilty to get out of jail regardless of guilt or innocence, or paying a non-refundable fee to a bail bonds company, which have profited from this system for decades, sometimes engaging in coercive and financially predatory behavior.

San Francisco can serve as a pretrial model for the state, as litigation in the Humphrey case has already led to a number of changes in the practices and procedures of San Francisco’s Superior Court. In 2018, after the appellate court’s opinion in Humphrey, San Francisco began seeing higher rates of release to pretrial services and fewer releases on cash bail. As a result, our Sheriff’s Office, Mayor’s Office and Board of Supervisors responded with a significant investment in the San Francisco Pretrial Diversion Project. Since its inception in 1976, SF Pretrial has supported bail reform as a non-profit and led innovative release practices while being ever mindful of our obligation to protect the safety of the public and victims of crime. With roots going back to 1964 through a partnership between the Superior Court and San Francisco Bar Association, we are a neutral and independent non-profit pretrial solution operating outside of law enforcement. SF Pretrial develops client-centered services designed to support individuals who are presumed innocent as they appear for court and continue forth with their lives.

Committed to a fairer and more equitable justice system, SF Pretrial has been responsive to the downstream effects of bail reform litigation by offering an expansive and diverse spectrum of client-centered services, allowing courts to more readily consider non-monetary release conditions. Since the impact of Humphrey in San Francisco, releases to our case management program have doubled while our public safety and court appearance rates continue to meet and exceed outcomes among the most preeminent pretrial systems nationwide, validating the return on investment in community resources like SF Pretrial.

While the California Supreme Court’s decision represents a victory for communities across the state, there is still significant work to be done. As jurisdictions respond to this decision, they will need to consider how existing resources can be supplemented with additional support to create a new culture of pretrial justice.

Working with our community and criminal justice colleagues, SF Pretrial’s comprehensive pretrial framework includes in-custody services, reentry planning, release facilitation, client supervision, and case management. We provide a full range of supportive services as described in the Humphrey decision including referrals to partner agencies for mental health, substance use, housing, family support, medical services, and the like. With support from the Sheriff’s Office, a partnership that has spanned decades, SF Pretrial is an example of how law enforcement funding can be divested to develop community-based solutions. We offer our model and exemplary partnership with the Superior Court, Sheriff, District Attorney, Bar Association, Public Defender, Probation Department, Police Department and dozens of community partners to the state as a fully operational response to the Humphrey decision. Our agency and the pretrial system have evolved considerably over the last several years and we are eager to share our experience and framework with jurisdictions across California.

More information is available at www.sfpretrial.org.

David Mauroff is CEO of the San Francisco Pretrial Diversion Project.

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