California Voters Support Ending Cash Bail, New Poll Shows

A sign advertises bail bonds on Bryant Street in San Francisco. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

Fifty percent of likely California voters say they will support a proposal to end cash bail in the state and replace it with a risk-based system, according to a new poll conducted for KQED by Change Research.

Voters will decide on the question next November.

The online poll of 1,565 likely voters, conducted Dec. 6-10 by Change Research for KQED, is good news for backers of SB 10, which calls for people accused of crimes and awaiting trial to be released from jail based on risk assessments and a judge's discretion instead of money bail.

Supporters of the change say requiring defendants to come up with cash to secure their release discriminates against the poor and does nothing to ensure public safety.

SB 10 was signed into law last year but put on hold after the bail industry — funded largely by the huge insurance companies that back bail bonds businesses — collected enough signatures to put the question before voters in the form of a referendum.

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The poll shows 28% of voters in support of the referendum to overturn SB 10; 50% opposed; and 22% undecided.

Democrats, younger people (ages 18-34), as well as Asian American voters, are most likely to support ending bail, with support hovering around 60%. Republicans are the only group in which a majority (54%) supported overturning the law.

It's a strong position for backers of reform to start.

Another question asked in the poll, however, shows that voters do have doubts about public safety in general.

Asked whether they feel more or less safe in their neighborhoods than they did three years ago, likely voters were nearly evenly split: 43% said they feel less safe while 44% said about the same. Ten percent said more safe, and 3% didn't know.

Bail Reform in California
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Bail isn't the only criminal justice question Californians will weigh in on next year: A group of law enforcement officials is also pushing another ballot measure to roll back some of the criminal justice reforms instituted in recent years.

That measure would make it harder for some offenders to parole from prison; make it easier for people to be charged with felonies for theft-related crimes; and require DNA collection of some offenders convicted only of misdemeanors.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown, who championed many of the policies that would be reversed by the ballot measure, has promised to fight the initiative if it's brought before voters. Brown still has about $15 million in a campaign account that he could spend.

Supporters of the ballot measure currently have about $1.8 million in their campaign account.

The questions were included in a larger poll conducted for KQED by Change Research. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5%.

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