Contra costa

county

77%

of people in the Contra Costa County Jail have not been convicted of a crime, and are being held only because of the current bail system.*

*based on most recent data available from the CA Board of State and Community Corrections daily average prison populations in county jails.

[source]

“So even though the decision by the judge to set high bail amounts today in this Contra Costa courthouse happens in minutes -- the impacts can last a lifetime.”
Why should the bail system change?
meet the author: 
OSCAR FLORES

The system needs to change because it's rigged.  People often have to use their homes or savings as collateral to make bail.

The judge set my bail at $50,000
my entire savings
Why are you in court today?

The system needs to change because it's rigged.  People often have to use their homes or savings as collateral to make bail.

A Day In Contra Costa Court

Contra Costa Superior Court could not begin without the screening ritual before entering the building. After I get in, I have to navigate my way into the appropriate courtroom by the means of a screen displaying all court proceedings, times and room numbers. Not knowing my way around the courthouse, I speak to the county clerk and get directed to felony arraignment court.

 

I walk into courtroom 130 and notice it is packed with Latinos and African Americans. Although the bailiffs are African American, and the probation, court and district attorney representatives are Asian, the judge and all the lawyers are Caucasian.

 

The judge calls out an African American man into the in-custody plexiglass cage. There is no way of seeing who is in custody behind the plexiglass and any attention families give to the defendants is immediately stopped by the bailiffs. As the judge calls out in-custody defendants, families shuffle for the best visual of their loved one, but unfortunately the bailiff threatens these families that they must leave the courtroom if they move to get a glance of their loved one.

 

The public defender rolls up a podium towards the in-custody cage, speaks briefly to his defendant, a Black woman, and requests to take the pretrial services report in consideration, in hopes of his client being released on her own recognizance. The district attorney aggressively responds, saying the report is not valid. The judge concludes with honoring the district attorney's concern, disregarding the pretrial services report, and saying he will set the bond amount at the next bail hearing.

 

Personally, this disregard for alternatives to money bail is all too familiar. The last and final time I was incarcerated was in Alameda County for serious charges. I’m a US resident from El Salvador and I was saving up to start my own business. I attempted to ask for a smaller bail amount so that I could still pursue my personal goal to open a taco truck to be self employed. I had no problem going back to court and resolving my case, but by all means wanted to avoid contact from ICE which may have resulted in the suspension of my residence and deportation to El Salvador.

 

And being deported to El Salvador where gang violence is rampant, may result in my death. My choice was to bail out and lose my savings to start a business or die. This was no stretch, as my older brother was previously deported to El Salvador and had to flee after someone locally was killed and castrated just days before his arrival after being deported. I asked the public defender if my bail could be lowered, but he immediately walked away. I then chose to speak for myself and was immediately rejected by the judge. The judge set bail for $50,000, my entire savings. The unfortunate truth is that ICE just looks at charges and convictions while incarcerated equally. Today my case has been resolved, I am alive and working but without my dreams of opening my own business. Bail has unfortunately handicapped my ability to rise above my current economic and social and class status.

 

So even though the decision by the judge to set high bail amounts today in this Contra Costa courthouse happens in minutes -- the impacts can last a lifetime.

2

STORIES

about this

court

1

2

Mercury News: "Contra Costa DA resigns, is now a convicted felon"

 

[link]

SF Gate: "Bay Area Court Interpreters Hold Walkout Over Pay Dispute"

 

[link]

DIRECT EXAMINATION

"One judge from Contra Costa County acknowledged that judges did not base their bail schedule decisions on actual data"

 

[source]