ICYMI: Here’s what Prop. 25 means in Ventura County
By Megan Diskin


From the Ventura County Star.

A “yes” vote on Proposition 25 would allow legislation eliminating money bail to move forward in the state and replace it with a system that assesses an arrested person’s flight risk and potential to commit more crime.  

The proposition is a voter referendum on Senate Bill 10, which was passed by the state Legislature in 2018. The law, stalled by the ballot measure now before voters, would get rid of a system that critics say unfairly treats people accused of crimes who don’t have the financial means to get out of jail before their trial begins.

Under SB 10, money bail would be replaced by a risk assessment tool that typically involves a series of questions used to recommend jail custody or some level of community supervision based on the resulting score. In the more serious cases, the recommendation goes to a judge and he or she makes the final decision. 

The referendum was backed largely by the bail industry, which would likely shut down within 20 months should the proposition pass, said Jeff Clayton, executive director of the American Bail Coalition.  

The coalition, a trade association including industry professionals, supports 15,000 employees and 3,000 licensed bail agents in the state, Clayton said.

“Everyone is looking at this Nov. 3 decision as very important,” said Ventura County Probation Chief Mark Varela.

If passed, the bill would not go into effect right away, Varela said.

The agency he oversees has already been using one of these tools to help determine if individuals charged with certain felonies should be incarcerated in the Ventura County jail before trial.

The program has been in place since 2013 and was expanded in 2019 after the Ventura County Superior Court was awarded $3.7 million from the California Judicial Council. The court contracts with probation to do the pre-trial risk assessments.

For years, the council, which is the policy-making body of the courts, has studied the money bail system in different workgroups. A 2017 report from one of the groups called it “unsafe and unfair.”

The Ventura County court was one of 16 statewide to be given a share of $68 million to implement pilot programs for bail alternatives or work to expand existing ones. 

The funding has allowed local probation officers to be embedded in the jail facility to actively conduct these assessments from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., including holidays, said Crystal Davis, a division manager in the probation agency. 

Using what’s called the Ohio Risk Assessment Tool, the agency has curated data that tells an officer if a person is likely to report for the rest of their court appearances and if they’re likely to commit a new offense pre-trial, Varela said.

“We’re at just above 90% of individuals who did not commit new offenses while on pretrial supervision and it fluctuates between 82 and 85% that attend all their court hearings,” Varela said.

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