Newly elected District Attorney Chesa Boudin took a step toward ending San Francisco’s cash bail system on Wednesday, implementing a new policy that prioritizes defendants being released ahead of trial rather than held behind bars.
The policy explicitly prohibits assistant district attorneys from asking a judge to hold a defendant using money bail. Instead, prosecutors will use a “risk-based system” to ensure that defendants who are not a flight or public safety threat are quickly released under varying conditions.
Boudin, the child of incarcerated parents, had promised to end cash bail during his campaign in November. Critics of the bail system have long argued that it disproportionately holds people of color behind bars based on wealth rather than risk.
“For years I’ve been fighting to end this discriminatory and unsafe approach to pretrial detention,” Boudin said in a statement. “From this point forward, pretrial detention will be based on public safety, not on wealth.”
The policy cements the progress toward ending money bail that former District Attorney George Gascon made after first introducing an algorithmic risk assessment tool in 2016.
But under Gascon, there was no formal policy banning the use of money bail by the office. And until now, prosecutors still requested money bail in some cases, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Under the new policy, prosecutors will still be allowed to request that a defendant be detained ahead of trial in certain serious felony cases and when “the defendant’s release would result in great bodily harm to others or the defendant’s flight.”
”Pretrial detention shall be the last option, only after all release conditions have been considered and determined to be inadequate to protect public safety or to reasonably ensure the defendant’s return to court,” the policy reads.
Specifically, prosecutors can seek to hold defendants without bail in felony cases involving acts of violence on another person, threats of great bodily harm against another person or sexual assault offenses on another person.
“District Attorney Boudin’s policy is a great step towards a more just system,” John Raphling, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “For too long, prosecutors have used money bail and pretrial incarceration as leverage to pressure people to plead guilty regardless of actual guilt. Boudin’s policy favoring pretrial release is a welcome change and will help build the credibility of our courts.”