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Equity and Transparency in Bond

By Alexis King · 2022-11-7

With a commitment to data and transparency, in July of this year, we published our first data story related to bond and its impacts on community safety here.  Our new bond practices, which rely on an evaluation of risk and the likelihood that someone will return to court, have led to an increase in personal recognizance (PR) bonds for those who can be safely supervised in the community, and a decrease in the use of cash/surety bonds which are not effective in protecting the community, ensuring return to court, and often penalize those who can be in the community but cannot come up with even a small amount of money. In addition, more high-risk individuals have been held on cash bonds and remained in custody.

While this practice has created more consistent outcomes and is a step forward, it has come at a cost to our commitment to racial equity. The following graph shows that non-white defendants, consisting primarily of Black and Hispanic individuals, are still more likely to be given a monetary condition of release, while white defendants are more likely to be granted a PR bond.

In July, we noted that the District Attorney’s Office often makes arguments for bond that are highly likely to match the judge’s decision. Data shows that the district attorney’s recommendation is highly influential when it comes to the setting of a bond.  As we have worked to improve our practice, with more experienced attorneys in the bond hearings, more guidance as to relevant factors for monetary bond, and the consistent incorporation of the pretrial risk assessment tool, we have argued for, and the judges have set, more bonds that people are unable to post.  The unintended consequence of these bond practices is the persistence of racial and ethnic disparities.  

Our role, as prosecutors, cannot be denied in this disparity. Our committed staff works tirelessly to make decisions that serve the best interests of the community at bond hearings, but the District Attorney’s Office acknowledges that the criminal justice system, like all facets of our society, is fraught with systemic racism. With our commitment to data transparency, we now have data that demonstrate disparities.  Conversations around race and our role in perpetuating disparities are uncomfortable but necessary for everyone committed to justice and serving their community.

We have an obligation to look inward and make concrete steps toward addressing racial and ethnic disparities. To that end we commit to the following:

  1. We have begun the process of diagnosing systemic issues with data through our partnership with the Prosecutorial Performance Indicators team and the hiring of an experienced data analyst.
  2. We will further invest in collecting and analyzing data on bond settings, jail population, and case outcomes to deepen our knowledge, identify solutions, and regularly report our findings to our staff and our community.
  3. Our office needs to have and use an equity lens in their work. We have engaged the established and respected Equity Project to work with our team as we learn and unlearn together.
  4. With this equity lens, we will expand the use of PR bonds for individuals who can be safely supervised in the community and lack the ability to pay for their release.
  5. We will use our position to advocate with stakeholders to improve system-wide bond practices because we all intuitively know that the District Attorney’s Office is not the only institution impacting people’s lives.

This is exactly why we do transparency work; data is the beginning of a conversation inside the District Attorney’s Office and beyond, with everyone who holds power in the system. The data confirms what we already know – systemic racism impacts people’s lives. Our office sees data as an objective catalyst for meaningful change and knows that it is important to be uncomfortable. It’s time to improve how we serve every member of our community.