Red stamp of word 'FAIL' in all caps on white background

After years of debate, after millions were spent by the “for” and “against” camps and lavished on legislators on both sides of the fence, California’s Proposition 25, which would have abolished the state’s cash bail system and possibly set a nationwide precedent, was defeated. According to poll results, 55.4 percent of residents voted against the measure. That is a solid gap between "yes" and "no," but bail bondsman across the country should take note. The war is not over, not by a longshot.

The Next Wave?

If you are a bail bonding professional in Adams County, Broomfield County, Weld County, Denver or elsewhere in Colorado, you probably reveled in a huge sigh of relief when the final tally was announced. As we all know, so much of what transpires in the Golden State (California’s official state nickname since 1968, by the way) affects the rest of the country. Entertainment. Technology. The economy. Law and social justice.

But here is what is worrisome about the Great Cash Bail Fail of 2020. Even though we told you so and tried to make rational arguments about the bail industry’s position, supporters of vaporizing the cash bail system have already geared-up in California for the next push. The next ballot initiative. The next strategy session designed to figure out how to create another veil of misinformation and ram another law down voter’s throats. And guess what? That costs money. Money that could go into job training for the unemployed, free or no-interest education loans and career training, food assistance programs, public health initiatives. The list goes on and on.

And now, of course, bail bonds professionals will be forced to do the same. If anyone of us thought our collective livelihoods were no longer in danger, think again. If these battles have taught us one thing, it’s that guerilla warfare – when bankrolled by industries with deep pockets – can drag a war out seemingly indefinitely.

Same As It Ever Was, or Is It?

For years, we called for sensible reform to the cash bail system nationwide but were rebuffed at every turn. Opponents of the system in every state have derided our industry as corrupt, more concerned with turning a quick buck than providing real service to those in need.

In May of 2020, NBC News – not fully liberal-leaning, but at least slightly left of center on many issues, gloriously reported that the ACLU has said the bail bonds industry excels at keeping "poor people in debt” but accomplishes little else. We’re not going to dive into the sewer and justify such obtuse opinions with a response, because we all know you cannot debate such institutions without being denigrated even further.

Some folks in California opposed to Proposition 25 formed a “No on Prop 25” committee and tried to introduce respectful, common-sense arguments into the debate. Their voices were shot down in broad public forums, but the message was obviously received. One of the arguments that bail bonding professionals have made for years about the “End Cash Bail” movement is that is could weaponize the very people empowered to steer the justice system for the benefit of all Americans.

After Proposal 25 failed, Lex Steppling and Dolores Canales, chairs of a No on Prop. 25 committee released a joint statement which said, “We warned our communities that if passed, Prop. 25 would automate racial profiling, give unchecked power to judges and increase funding and power for corrupt probation departments," and obviously got through to most voters.

If you have followed the cash bail controversy for the last several months, you know what Steppling and Canales were talking about – computer-based algorithms designed to determine a defendant’s threat level, and discretionary powers to judges who can act on whims rather than the law.

Were Voters Wrong?

Oh, how the tides have turned. Our industry has preached, pleaded for years about common-sense bail reform to no avail. Is the current cash bail system a total, amoral failure? No. Does it have weaknesses that need to be excised, like a rotten, impacted tooth? Yes.

But left-leaning, liberal activists have not given up their crusade. Yes, we will call it a crusade, because much like those religious zealots from centuries ago, these folks seem to believe they are on a mission from god – and damn everyone else.

A Daily Bruin editorial said recently, “However, the failure of Proposition 25 does not mean the end of reform. California has an opportunity to listen to civil rights advocates and create a truly just system that isn’t reliant on discriminatory tools. The cash bail system must come to an end – and now is the perfect time to do so.”

Alison Regan, a UCLA law lecturer, added, “What the legislature now has to do is go back to the table and see if they can craft another bill that can work on behalf of all Californians, rich or poor, so that we have a more fair system and we’re not incarcerating people simply because they’re poor.”

Perhaps not so surprising is the fact this editorial and its author put faith once again in the power of computer-based algorithms to replace – not reform – the cash bail system. And their argument is the same old tired schtick – “We know more than you do! We are in the right and you are in the wrong!”

Clearly, these people believe voters in California were wrong, misguided, or even worse – not capable intellectually to grasp the seriousness of the issue. The war is not over.