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of people in the San Francisco 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.


Across from the courthouse are bail bond agents covering almost
the entire block. 
Why are you in court today?
Why should the bail system change?

It should change because it is a system whose product is people going to prison.

meet the author: 

I am in court because bail is used to manipulate who's going to stay in jail and who is not.  We need to have the presumption of innocence, and we have lost that.

highest bail i've
ever seen:

A Day In San Francisco Court

Zoe and I walk into 850 Bryant in San Francisco where arraignments are held. Across from the courthouse are bail bond agents covering almost the entire block. This is the only time I have seen competing businesses near each other.  

We head to Department 22 which is presided over by Superior Court Judge Wong. We spend most of the morning and early afternoon listening to the cases that come before the court.  Most of the people watching the court hearings are women who had come to support their loved ones. Most of those being charged are people of color, with the overwhelming majority being African American males.  At one point three African American males are before the judge.  One is out on bail and the two others are in custody.  It is not hard to see the animosity between the three who all have different attorneys. This is a tactic attorneys and the courts use to get one of the accused to turn on the others.  There is an attempt by one of the attorneys to have separate trials but that is not going to happen due to cost. No matter what the arguments are, it all comes down to cost for the courts.

One of the cases is of a black male and a female who is out on bail or own recognizance and did not show up. The attorney states that her client went to Oklahoma to be with her daughter and is on a bus headed back. She and the judge go back and forth about the young lady who is being charged as an accessory to second degree murder. However, it appears that she was a witness who was charged to get her to testify against her co-defendant. The judge puts a Bench Warrant on the young woman even though her attorney assures him that she is on her way. She got on a bus from Oklahoma two nights before to arrive on time, and there was a delay. The judge refuses to give the attorney until 1:30 pm that afternoon for her to appear. The bail system is not only to free folks before trial but to make sure that those who may be witnesses appear. You can therefore be charged with a crime and made to appear as a defendant when they want you to be an informant. So the judge goes to the bail schedule and tells the DA to issue a Bench Warrant.  Her bail is set at $225,000, meaning she will be remanded to the County Jail until after the trial. Her attorney advocates for lower bail, citing that she is “indigent” and the judge ignores her.

There are two young Latino men, one of whom testifies that he has been in county jail for 19 months awaiting trial and that he and his codefendant have graduated from high school there. He mentions that he is ready to stand trial and get this behind him. So, their bail must have been too high for the families to afford.  If they have been there for 19 months what happened to their speedy trial?  The young man who spoke says he was offered a deal and refused to take it. Are they holding these young men in an attempt to force them to take a deal?  The courts asked them to waive their rights to a speedy trial, after they have been in custody for 19 months.  

In another case a young Pacific Islander woman appears before the court and is in custody. She was arrested on a bench warrant after a Failure To Appear (FTA). She is dazed and looks to be about 18 years old. It turns out that she had been pregnant and lost her child just a a few weeks earlier.  I got the impression that she may be suffering from depression after the loss of her child but the courts have no sympathy for her. She is sent back to county to await trial with no mention of mental health support.

I guess we missed the court hearings for the middle class white males because none of them showed up in Department 22 today. They were all Asians, African American, Pacific Islanders, and Latinos who were either out on bail or remanded because they could not afford Bail.

As we leave the courthouse, we join a protest by family members who were fighting for justice for their loved ones who have been killed by SFPD. They come out regularly to demand investigations and punishment for the officers who took the lives of their loved ones. Justice for #MarioWoods #AmilcarPerezLopez #JessicaWilliams #LuisGong #AlexNieto and many others.











the average bail posted in San Francisco in 2016





about this





SF Chronicle: "To Be More Just, Communities Must Rethink Parole and Probation" - Thoughts from the District Attorney


SF Chronicle: "Editorial: Don’t junk jail release program that uses computer algorithms"



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