of people in the Santa Clara 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.
"All of the detainees are serving time, even though none of them have been convicted of the crime they are charged with."
Why should the bail system change?
The bail system should change because everyone should be able to fight their case from the outside.
meet the author:
injustice of bail:
Not being able to fight your case with dignity
Why are you in court today?
As someone who's been through the justice system before, I know how county facilities break you down. It's important to be here to try to make a change.
a day in santa clara court
As I take a stroll down Hedding Street, alongside bail agents passing out promotional key chains and flyers, I find my way to the Hall of Justice. But to get there one has to pass the county jail, which only brings back regretful memories of shakedowns, bad food, bad attitudes from correctional officers, and attempting in every way possible to recreate outside life. The juvenile hall and county jail are conveniently placed only steps away from the big courthouse.
Just before entering the Hall of Justice, I join the back of the line. Mothers, family members, and people facing court fill up the line while white collars and suits get a free pass in without having to wait. The court holds several floors and departments, but in this case I step down to the bottom floor for arraignment court. This is where the first court hearing goes down — the first rushed words you hear from your overworked public defender, the first time you hear your charges, and whether or not you're going back home before trial.
In the courtroom, the judge is white as well as the prosecutor and court staff. Ironically, most of the sheriffs and pretrial detainees are people of color. Maybe the sheriffs are trying to be culturally competent, but competent or not, it still doesn't change the circumstances of what happens in this courthouse.
The “box,” where the detained are brought out from jail for court, is not an easy place to be in. Detainees are transported like cattle in accordance to their classification and are largely overwhelmed by the court language which is deciding their fate. The bailiffs only allows about five at a time to take a seat. Many detainees are happy to be in court, as it may be their only opportunity to see their loved ones in court and outside world during the bus ride.
All of the detainees are serving time, deprived from their families and the outside, even though none of them have been convicted of the crime they are charged with. Most of the pretrial detainees are young, and no older than 25, and unfortunately beginning their adulthood in the courtroom that may dictate the rest of their lives. The courtroom is packed with mainly black and brown families on the edge of their seats, not understanding the court process and not knowing when and if their loved one will be getting out. I know the feeling of being chained in shackles, overwhelmed by overworked public defenders, with no understanding of the law but having a clear understanding that something just ain’t right. The only thing I was looking forward to when being transported to court was looking at the trees and streets on the bus. Families are torn between two bad choices — not knowing if their loved one will be facing hard time or not being able to pay sky rocket bail amounts set by the judge. As many of the Raza families try to make sense out of what's happening in court, the bailiff quickly enforces that they be quiet while in the courtroom.
There was approximately 20 court arraignments completed within a three hour time frame. During the entire arraignment court session, the lowest bail amount imposed was $50,000 with the highest being $136,000. Bail bond companies, like the ones passing out flyers and key chains out front, charge ten percent of the total bail amount. If the bond is paid, it will impact a family's ability to keep up with Silicon Valley's rent rates. That's a $5,000 to $13,000 hit in one of the most expensive counties in the country to live in. That's $5,000 to $13,000 they will never get back, even if the charges are dropped, or if your loved one is found innocent at trial.
And setting bail that can't be afforded gives a detainee the feeling of surrender. Not being able to be outside with loved ones, keeping a job, or fighting a case with dignity in appropriate attire are unfortunate setbacks that impact their ability to fight their case. The reality is that an overwhelming majority will not exercise their right to a trial. Being detained pretrial, they will take a plea, whether or not they’re “guilty,” just to get out.
A father from the pews stepped to the podium in an attempt to have the judge hear him out, assuring the judge that his son will make it to his next court date. This young man's father was anxious to speak at the podium while expressing his confidence that his son will abide by any court conditions if granted pretrial release. The public defender emphasized that his client has no criminal history and proposed the option of electronic monitoring to ensure this young man's next court appearance. But the judge was unmoved, and this young man will have to be detained until his sentencing date. Discouraged, the young man's father will now have to accept that he may not have a better chance to fight his case, regardless of family support. Guilty until proven innocent, or in actuality guilty until the bond is paid.
Thankfully, Santa Clara County is moving away from relying on money bail, that for the first time in our local history gives mass numbers of pretrial defendants the opportunity to fight their cases on the outside with their families. In addition, Santa Clara County will be implementing the nation’s first Community Release Project - where someone pretrial can be released to partner with a community organization to ensure they get support to return to court. These improvements were a long time coming, but are sure going to change our final day in court!
"Justice Delayed: Why Does it Take So Long to Resolve Felonies in Santa Clara County?"
Mercury News: "Michael Tyree jury: San Jose Jail Guards Guilty of Murdering Mentally Ill Inmate"
Mercury News: "Santa Clara County Bail Reform: Many Awaiting Trial Could Go Free"