Two road signs labelled with RIGHT DIRECTION and WRONG DIRECTION against blue sky

Last year outgoing California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law known as SB10. Virtually every civil society group in the state - including the normally anti-bail ACLU - objected to the bill, which would eliminate cash bail. Brown, desperate to leave some sort of meaningful legacy behind after years of overseeing the state’s gradual decline, signed the bill anyway. It was slated to go into effect on October 1, 2019. But a funny thing happened on the way to implementation: voters decided they wanted some sort of say in the matter. More than 600,000 of them signed a petition that stopped implementation of SB10 and put the matter of bail bonds on the 2020 ballot.

Oh The Irony

Like a football team trying to run another play quickly before their last one gets reviewed bail reformers were hoping October 1, 2019 would arrive before the petition to stop it received enough signatures. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. In fact, it wasn’t even close. It took just a couple of months to garner the necessary signatures and call a halt to implementation of SB10.

So-called “reformers” were hoping California would provide a template for success of their movement nationwide. Instead, what’s happened is that California residents have created a template other states can use to prevent bail reform advocates from unleashing chaos in their states.

It’s a satisfying result for people who treasure justice for victims and who don’t want democracy hijacked by special interest cabals with wealthy non-profits behind them. But it doesn’t signal an ultimate victory common sense. Not yet. Because the struggle now turns to ensuring a positive outcome in the 2020 referendum.

Who is Actually Behind Bail Bonds Reform?

SB10 didn’t just appear out of thin air. And it wasn’t the result of average California citizens demanding the end of cash bail. SB10, and similar laws in other states, are the result of intense lobbying by special interest non-profit organizations like the Arnold Foundation.

The Arnold Foundation is the organization that came up with the risk assessment algorithm that is being used to replace the bondsman in states like New Jersey. So they have a vested interest in seeing an end to the thousand year old bail system. But who is the Arnold Foundation and how did they come up with their risk assessment program?

Origins of a Mistake

The Arnold Foundation was created by John Arnold, a former executive of the disgraced Enron Corporation. He founded his non-profit for the same reason many wealthy individuals do: to shield his wealth from the taxman. The thing is, such an organization needs to have a cause to advance or it won’t be able to achieve non-profit status. Arnold surveyed the landscape and decided bail reform was a good candidate. So they set about to develop their risk assessment algorithm and then offered it free of charge to anyone who wanted it.

Over time, however, the shortcomings of the program have been laid bare. Time and again people who should be behind bars have been set free because the Arnold algorithm mistakenly determined they posed no risk. And as for all the supposedly innocent poor people the foundation and its allies claimed were rotting in jail just because they couldn’t post bond? Turns out there weren’t really all that many.

As the shortcomings of the Arnold risk assessment tool have become painfully obvious states across the country have begun pushing back on bail reform. New York, New Jersey, Colorado, Delaware, Florida and other states have either outright rejected the snake oil Arnold is selling or rolled back previous bail bonding reform measures following an outcry from citizens, police and prosecutors.

The Arnold Foundation er… Arnold Ventures

In states that have adopted bail reform and the Arnold risk assessment algorithm court no-shows have shot up, crime rates have increased and taxpayers are facing huge costs to build and maintain the high-tech system needed to monitor everyone being released. Every day brings new stories about people released without bail being rearrested for committing various horrific crimes.

In one of the most startling turns in this whole sorry saga the Arnold Foundation itself recently began to put distance between itself and the chaos it has spawned. James Cadogan, an executive VP at the foundation recently admitted “no risk assessment, by itself, is a solution.” He went on to explain that the foundation he worked for is going to forego it’s non-profit status, become a for profit company called “Arnold Ventures” and continue to “fight” for “victims” of the cash bail system.

He also unveiled 5 points the new Arnold Ventures would emphasize regarding pretrial processing of defendants going forward. Nowhere on his list was the Arnold algorithm. So the very people who shoved this program down the throats of Americans from coast to coast are now pretending it doesn’t exist.

The Bottom Line

California has presented other states with a template for fighting back against the scourge of short-sighted bail reform efforts. While the good people of Adams County, Broomfield County, Weld County and Denver showed the bail reform cabal the door once before there is little doubt they’ll be back to try again. If they manage to get the governor to sign on to their efforts Coloradans should take California’s lead and petition to put the issue on the ballot so voters, not special interests, can decide.