of people in the San Joaquin 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.
"Altogether, close to a million dollars in bail was handed out by the judge."
A Day In San Joaquin Court
Walking down San Joaquin Street towards the Superior Court of San Joaquin County, I see attorneys and families rushing in. The line to go to court is surrounded by homeless people sleeping and panhandling.
Passing through the metal detectors, I see the attorneys and public defenders walk straight in with no problem. I passed through with empty pockets and no belt, and the damn detector still goes off. Naturally, I get nervous. The guard tells me to lift my pants up past my ankles, and responds, “You're good.”
I get in and see the halls packed. Everyone’s looking for the courtroom they’ll be set to do battle in. Worried looks are attached to everyone’s faces. Sitting in court, I see a defense attorney shamelessly disinterested in what's going on in court while knitting. All together, the breakdown of defendants are about half Mexican and half Black. There was only one caucasian defendant and one gentleman of Indian descent.
The first case that gets called is a defendant of Indian descent. The judge takes a pause from his text messaging from the bench and announces, “Remand into custody! Assault and battery, $100,000 bail!” Confused, this defendant's family becomes saddened and leaves court with their heads down unable to make bail and not knowing what tomorrow will look like.
Still texting, the judge calls his next case, a young a Black male, “Possession of a controlled substance, $30,000 bail! Remand into custody!” The defendant goes into custody with no money for bail and a resigned acceptance of the circumstance. Before the defendant's family leaves, they scramble through the halls to talk with their loved one’s attorney. Asking about bail, the attorney replies, “Don’t worry about bailing out your loved one, he'll be out within a week or so.” He continues, “Save your money he'll get a chance to get back into a drug program.” Although this may give this family some assurance, there is no consideration of the young man’s possible employment, dependents, or how being incarcerated may have long term impact on his life, despite it only being “a week or so.”
Altogether, about over a million dollars in bail was asked for by the judge in the short time I sit through the court session. And had I stayed longer, I would have just seen more of the same -- Stockton has been plagued by inappropriate extortion of our people for decades. Getting a fair-shake in the courtroom is virtually impossible, and that includes all that goes on in an arraignment court on any given day. Money bail is one of the most powerful tools the courts use to keep our families separated from that very first court date.